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B. Arch. University of the Witwatersrand 

Wl\C]0lZ>~S>lCU1 PA* 

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment 
of the requirements for the 
Degree of 

Master of Architecture in Advanced Studies 
at the 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

September 1979 

(c) Doreve Nicholaeff 1979 

Signature of Author 

Certified by 

Accepted by 

Department of Architecture 
June 26, 19 79 

David Friedman, Assistant Professor 

of History and Architecture 

Thesis Supervisor 

Professor Julian Beinart, Chairman 
Departmental Committee for Graduate Students 







B. Arch. University of the Witwatersrand 

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment 
of the requirements for the 
Degree of 

Master of Architecture in Advanced Studies 
at the 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

September 1979 

(c) Doreve Nicholaeff 1979 

Signature of Author 

Department of Architecture 
June 26, 1979 

Certified by 

David Friedman, Assistant Professor 

of History and Architecture 

Thesis Supervisor 

Accepted by 

Professor Julian Beinart, Chairman 
Departmental Committee for Graduate Students 




B. Arch. University of the Witwatersrand 

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment 
of the requirements for the 
Degree of 

Master of Architecture in Advanced Studies 
at the 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

September 1979 

(£) Doreve Nicholaeff 1979 

Signature of Author 

Department of Architecture 
June 26, 19 79 

Certified by 

David Friedman, Assistant Professor 

of History and Architecture 

Thesis Supervisor 

Accepted by 

Professor Julian Beinart, Chairman 
Departmental Committee for Graduate Students 


Doreve Nicholaeff 

submitted to the Department of Architecture on June 26, 1979 
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of 
Master of Architecture in Advanced Studies 

The area that in 1883 came to be known as Copley Square is located 
at the collision of two grids, the Back Bay and the South End, both 
built upon reclaimed land. The square was the product of many planning 
decisions made especially for the Back Bay, generating a rich physical 
accretion of heterogenous pieces built from the 1860's through the 1910 's. 

Originally the area of the Square inspired little confidence in its 
worth. As planned, it comprised many odd-shaped parcels of land and was 
situated farthest from the highest valued property within the Back Bay. 
Beginning in 1859, the City engineers and the "Committee of Associated 
Institutions" offered schemes for the Copley site as a form of civic 
center featuring, at various times, a park, a school, public library and 
museums . 

Contemporaneous with the economic and social development of the 
site as a center of cultural and educational institutions was the 
unique process of its physical growth. Despite the formal similarity 
of the Copley Square area and a Back Bay block, they underwent different 
processes of development, which produced different architectural charac- 
ters. The linear process of fill and build was associated with the 
stylistic consistency within a Back Bay block. In the Copley Square area 
construction began in the center of the block approximately five years 
before the corner lots were built on and for the first time within the 
Back Bay and South End grids public buildings occupied entire parcels 
of land. This particular pattern of development, in conjunction with 
the proposals of the two groups of men, began to shape the character of 
Copley Square. 

Thesis Supervisor: 

David Friedman 


Assistant Professor of History and Architecture 



Introduction 1 

1. The Copley Square site in the 1860's 3 

2. Proposals to improve the Copley Square site in the 1860's 9 

3. The Copley Square area and development in the Back Bay, 

4. Development of the Copley Square area 41 
The first stage of development, 1870-1880 41 
The decision to improve the area, 1880-1885 66 
The third stage of development, 1883-1896 71 

5. Copley Square, a prominent place in urban America, 1885-1900 82 

6. Proposals to improve the Square Area, 1892-1912 90 

7. Copley Square in 1912 101 
Appendices 103 


The area that in 1883 came to be known as Copley Square is located 
at the collision of the grid of the Back Bay and the grid of the South 
End. Both grids laid out on reclaimed land were planned^ in the mid- 
nineteentfi- cehtriry. The more important of these developments was the 
Back Bay which extended the land west of the Public Garden over the 
tidal flats of the Charles River Bay. Within this grid, land closest to 
the- Gardew, the River, ; ind the main axis of the system, Commonwealth 
Avenue, had the^highesC vaJ^e. The value, of land, decreased* as it lay 
progressist**-!^ -farther }f roB*- eneseKthreef polelr. In 1860 the ■ area that was 
later to become Copley Square was situated as far from any of these 
advantageous areas as was possible. 

Only to be named Copley Square in 1883, it began to stumble into 
shape when a group of business and professional men, and city planners 
started formulating ideaa. t«r- enhanee-rhe market value* and quality of the 
site for the benefit of the Commonwealth, who were part owners of this 
land. The first group formed an "association of gentlemen" in 1859, 
calling themselves "the Committee of Associated Institutions" for the 
purpose of establishing a Conservatory of Arts and Sciences. The second 
group, the city designers, proposed to reserve land in the Copley Square 
area for use as a public park. The work of both groups helped structure 
the collision as a unique square in whose neighborhood cultural, educa- 
tional and religious institutions, commercial enterprises and high 
density apartment houses came to be concentrated. 

The development process at the Copley Square area differed from the 
building pattern of the Back Bay and South end grids. As soon as the 
land was laid within these reclaimed territories, each owner built on 
his property. Both grids continued their fill toward the west, and their 
structures followed closely behind. This sequential pattern of fill and 
build meant that within any block, buildings dated from approximately the 

same time, a circumstance that makes for architectural and stylistic 
consistency. At the Copley site, construction occurred only after all 
the land had been laid and structures were erected in piecemeal fashion 
so that they came to dot the boundaries of its area. The buildings 
that fronted the space later to be known as Copley Square appeared over 
a period of twenty-five years, a situation which resulted in stylistic 
and formal complexity. 

In the decade and a half after its creation, Copley Square was held 
to be a prominent civic space. Can this consideration be attributed to 
the execution of the planned civic improvements? To what extent did 
their execution realize the ideology proposed by the "Committee of 
Associated Institutions", and the map making of the city engineers and 



In 1860 both the quality of the Copley Square area and the value 
of its land were factors which determined whether this site was favorably 
disposed or not. Its physical form and character were structured by the 
configuration of the colliding grids of the Back Bay and South End. The 
value of its land was established by the nature of ownership there, 
and by its location relative to other sites within the two developments. 

The land of the Back Bay approximates a rectangle which covers an 
area of about one hundred acres (figure 1) . It is laid out in streets 
perpendicular to each other and is bounded on the east by the Public 
Garden; on the north by Beacon Street, beyond which were the lands of 
the Roxbury Mill-corporation, or of the parties to whom that company had 
sold; on the south by Boylston Street and the lands of the Boston Water 
Power Company; and on the east by West Chester Park, each of which were 
the lands owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and others. The 
principal of these streets, known as Commonwealth Avenue, divides the 
territory into two nearly equal parts, and its width is such as to admit 
a central island ornamented with grass, shrubbery and trees. This 
avenue follows the line of the Mill Dam which was constructed in 1814 
and which exists today beneath the surface of Beacon Street. Parallel 
to the Broad Avenue too is a system of alleyways which bisect the depth 
of the blocks of the grid. 

The trapezoidal geometry of the South End grid intersects the Back 
Bay and occupies a smaller area than the latter territory. The streets 
of the South End grid are at right angles to each other and its bounda- 
ries are: on the northwest, Huntington Avenue, on the southeast, 
Columbus Avenue, on the north, Boylston Street, and on the southwest, 
West Chester Park. The Boston Water Power Company owned most of the 
land within the trapezoid. Its two avenues, Huntington and Columbus, 
are the major axes of the system and they reach the Back Bay at the 

rm CNAAU3 *JV€A. 

The grid of the Back 
Bay and the grid of 
the South End 

Copley Square Area and Park Square respectively. Both avenues were pre- 
figured by the Boston and Providence railroad line which runs midway 
between them and at a thirty degree angle relative to the Mill Dam. 
Incorporated in 1831 and opened two years later, this railroad line 
crosses the Boston and Worcester railway tracks within the South End grid 
and at Dartmouth Street. The blocks of land meet the line of the rail- 
road tracks and avenues perpendicularly, whereas within the Back Bay, 
the blocks are parallel to the boundaries. 

The two major and particular configurations which qualify the 
area within the rectangle and trapezoid, are superimposed at the Copley 
Square Site (figure 2). This is the territory bounded by Boylston, 
Clarendon and Dartmouth streets and St. James Avenue. Here too is 
collaged that part of the trapezoid which is north of the railroad tracks 
and which deviates from the typical South End pattern. This minor 
system parallels the Mill Dam and has a cross street, between Clarendon 
and Dartmouth Streets, called Trinity Place, which in the 1860 's was 
planned to bisect Boylston Street. The space so formed, at the point of 
collision, was comprised of a Back Bay block disected by an alleyway, 
Providence Street, penetrated also on its diagonal by Huntington Avenue, 
and further divided by Trinity Place. These streets and avenues passing 
through the Copley site were of diverse widths: Huntington Avenue was 
100 feet wide. Trinity Place was 40 feet wide and Providence Street was 
a 25 feet passageway. This alley divided the ownership of land within 
the block so that its northern section belonged to the Commonwealth of 
Massachusetts, and the southern part to the Boston Water Power Company. 

What resulted was a number of pie-shaped pieces of land owned 
separately by two enterprises. The following were those pieces of the 
puzzle which were the property of the Commonwealth: a trapezoid bounded 
by Boylston, Dartmouth and Providence Streets, Huntington Avenue and 
Trinity Place; a triangle bounded by Boyston Street, Trinity Place 
and Huntington Avenue; and another triangle created by Clarendon and 
Providence Streets and Huntington Avenue. Those sections, belonging to 
the Boston Water Power Company were: a triangle formed by Providence 
and Dartmouth Streets and Huntington Avenue; the area between Hunting- 
ton Avenue and St. James Avenue and Trinity Place; and a rectangle 
created by Clarendon and Providence Streets and Huntington Avenue. 



ooyisr * sjmst 

It is evident that development of all these pieces, six in total, 
would have created a disjointed and incoherent environment. Had this 
configuration remained, the situation would have become even worse 
because ownership of land north and south of the alley, being by two 
bodies respectively, would most likely have resulted in those bodies 
imposing different and uncoordinated restrictions on the land. 

Besides the configuration of the site creating the area's relative 
importance, the actual value for which the land there would sell, with 
respect to the different parts of the Back Bay and South End territory, 
was indicative of its condition for building. This value was dependent 
upon the important influences that gave the grids value as a whole , or 
affected the relative value of their parts. 

By 1860, these influences could be classified as external and 
internal. The former were principally three, exclusive of the general 
and more essential fact, that the whole value of the territory derived 
from its proximity to the center of the city of Boston. These were: 
firstly, the Public Garden; secondly, the valuable improvements on 
the north side of Beacon Street and the extensive water-space of the 
Charles River Bay on the north; and thirdly, the character of Boylston 
Street, and the Water Power Company's lands in the South End grid, 
through which there was also a class of improvements in progress, but 
which strongly contrasted in value to those on Beacon Street. 

The internal influences depended on the width of the streets and 
avenues, and the different degrees of their ornamentation. Commonwealth 
Avenue, dividing the combined territory of the Back Bay and that part of 
the South End situated north of the Boston and Worcester railroad tracks, 
into two nearly equal parts, influenced the two divisions equally; 
yet the lots in these divisions were not equally attractive for first- 
class residences, owing to the fact that the northern and southern 
external influences were by no means equal. Besides, the southern 
division exceeded in area the northern by the entire range of lots on 
the southerly side of Boylston Street. This range which encompassed 
the Copley Square site, was farther from the central avenue than any 
portion of the northern division, and was consequently less affected by 
its enhancing influence. Its value and by the same token that of the 
Copley area, was more liable to the influence of the cheap prices of 
the lots of the Boston Water Power Company which were south of Provi- 

dence Street. The importance of thes,e influences was reflected in the 
figures of the results of actual sales in this locality. 

The whole territory of the Back Bay lands being of uniform grade, 
and with a single system of drainage, and lying in a symmetrical body, 
it would be fair to presume that the prices of lots would be uniform, 
were it not for the inequality of the affects of the internal and ex- 
ternal influences. 

To illustrate the estimated worth of the Copley area in 1860, the 
relative recorded average prices obtained from the sales of the land in 
its proximity are used to establish this data (appendix 1) . Its value 
would be sixty-six percent less than the price of lands fronting Common- 
wealth Avenue, the Charles River and the Public Garden, and fifteen per- 
cent lower than the mean price of lands south of the avenue. It is 
therefore obvious that the Copley site inspired little confidence in the 
sale of its lots. The large variance in the cost of land here would 
also have created the dilemma as to whether the character of the en- 
vironment would be influenced by the higher or lower land value. 

The comparatively low market value together with the formal con- 
fusion of land parcels rendered the Copley area in the 1860 's an un- 
favorable site within the Back Bay and the South End territory. The 
possible- method to-efnhance its quality and value, and so increase the 
purchase price of the land, would be to establish an important urban 
element which by its nature would attract people to buy the lots at 
higher cost. Realizing this, two groups of men began to explore the 
potential of the Copley site and its surrounds. 



See: "The Estimate of the Financial Effect of the proposed reservation 
of Sack Bay lands prepared for the Committee of Associated Institutions 
of Science and Art by M. D. Ross in January 1361" p. 9. This document 
is located in the HIT Archives. 



In the mid-nineteenth century, the improvements which were planned 
to enhance the quality and increase the market value of the land at the 
Copley Square area, began to mould and influence its form and nature. 
These improvements were to be a conservatory of arts and sciences and a 
public park and square. The conservatory was proposed by the "Commit- 
tee of Associated Institutions" which consisted of a number of business 
and professional men, while the formation of a public space at the 
Copley site was planned by a group of city engineers and surveyors. 
Whereas the efforts of the city employees were limited to map making, 
the work of the association of gentlemen was confined to conceptual 
planning and their ideas describing the nature of the conservatory 
appeared in three documents called Memorials . 

The "Massachusetts Conservatory of Art and Science" was another 
name assigned to this informal group of men. It was created in 1859 
in order to erect a conservatory of arts and sciences in Boston. 
Buildings for various societies devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture, 
Natural History, Mechanics, Manufactures, Commerce, the Fine Arts 
and Public Education were to constitute the conservatory. For the 
execution of this proposal a site had to be procured, and the time for 
land acquisition became ripe in 1859. The opportunity to apply for a 
plot of State land arose when the Governor of Massachusetts, Nathaniel 
Banks, in that year, stated in the annual messaae of the Legislature 
that land in the Back Bay would be granted for educational improvements 
so as "to keeD the name of the Commonwealth for ever sreen in the 
memorv of her children." And so the men of these societies responded 
to the Governor's offer. They petitioned the Legislature (in House 
Document No. 260) for a "reservation of State Land in the Back Bay for 
a Conservatory of Art and Science," and used the tactic that this 
scheme would benefit the State from an educational and financial point 

of view. 

Before the request for land was made, "the work of the association 
was not restricted to the formulation of the abstract ideas of the 
Conservatory. This is known from a letter written by William Barton 
Rogers, a member of the group. Rogers, the founder of the Massachu- 
setts Institute of Technology, a society of the "Conservatory", on 
February 14, 1859, wrote that "... application will be made by the 
National History Society and other parties here, to induce the Legis- 
lature to set aside a large lot in the Back Bay improvement for the 
reception of a grand cruciform structure for the museum and libraries 
of the various societies and for a grand polytechnical depository." 

The cruciform building, called the Massachusetts Conservatory of 
Art, Science and Historical Relics, was proposed by William Waud for 
the site of the Public Garden. (figure 3). Fortunately, the Act of 
1849, Chapter 210 blocked the way of its erection. This Act assured 
the future of the Public Garden by providing that no building save a 
City Hall might be constucted between Charles and Arlington Streets. 
By 1909, there were still proposals for a city hall on the site of the 
Public Garden. (In consequence, the Conservatory or State Institution 
was originally conceived as existing within a park environment) . 

The precedence for the form of an iron building set in a garden 
was established not only by the Crystal Palace in England, but also in 
South Kensington by the temporary iron buildings erected in 1856 to 
house the collection of works of art already assembled for educational 
purposes by the Department of Art and Science. Members of the 
"Associated Societies" expressed their interest in this Museum. * 
In the same year that the Conservatory was proposed for the Public 
Garden in Boston, a portion of the South Kensington site was leased to 
the Royal Horticultural Society, who with government subsidies formed 
an elaborate garden, surrounded with architectural arcades and pavilions 
on three sides and a large iron conservatory on the fourth. 

The notion of the prate . ^qggjfr e g gqt«BSflg^^ 
«HtfSRHHHaaM09@§9 is discussed in Albert Fein's article, "The 
American City: The Ideal and the Real". * He states that the ideal of 
the pufrlAfegB^sqSEBBa^^^ 

concents of ~y&^$&&^ss&£toi?&^3cei^ahtr!i* represented bv museums, which 
were planned to be mg§fr^f^WWWi— if— if* and that it was conceived 




The Massachusetts Conservatory of Art Science and Historical Relics 
in the Public Garden (Whitehill, Boston: A Topographical History , 
1968, p. 157) 

12 of as a social totality. Olmsted and Vaux, who in 1858 designed Central 
Park, New York, first created the park, and then almost a decade later, 
the siting of the Museum of Art and Natural History followed. In South 
Kensington in 1858, the reverse situation occurred in that first the 
museum was erected and then the garden created. In Boston in 1859, 
the proposal for a Conservatory of Art and Science and Historical 
Relics, which was to be situated in the Public Garden, was originally 
conceived as an integral part of the park. 

Although this cruciform building was not executed, the notions it 
embraced continued to be documented by the members of the "Conserva- 
tory of Art and Science." The members who were called memorialists 
recorded the ideas of the Committee in three Memorials, one in each of 
the following years, 1859, 1860 and 1861. These legal reports make it 
possible to trace the history of the nature of the Conservatory and the 
history of what portion of Back Bay lands came to be requested for the 
purpose of erecting the complex proposed by the associated societies. 

The first Memorial pointed out that the real magnitude for a 
State Institution, in what initially may have seemed too extensive a 
scheme, consisted not in the creation of new organizations so much as 
in the novel aggregation of old ones. J The memorialists believed there 
were advantages in establishing the socieities in one locality, "to 
unite those which existed in widely separated places and to establish 
them in Boston, the capital, and in point of convenience of access 
nearer than any other point to the whole people of the State." For 
this reason they requested the Legislature to reserve from the sale of 
Back Bay lands four adjacent squares of land as divided on the Commis- 
sioner's plan and set them apart for a Conservatory of Art and Science. 
The memorialists called this land the Reservation and specified for it 
a variety of scienticic and industrial institutions classified under 
four sections. It was proposed that each section should occupy one 
square of the reserved land. The object here was to locate kindred 
associations near each other so that they might receive mutual benefit 
from the aggregated collection. However, it was stressed that the 
"perfect individuality" (p. 10) of each institution had to be retained 
and that each should confine its operations to a speciality. 

The four sections were: 13 

Section 1 - Societies devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture and 
Pomology and which would display the collection of 
implements and models. 
Section 2 - Societies devoted to Natural History and Practical 
Geology and which would provide museums of speci- 
Section 3 - Societies devoted to Mechanics, Manufactures, and 

Section 4 - Societies devoted to Fine Arts and the History of 
the Human Race. 
The Memorial stressed that by erecting buildings accommodating the 
various societies on certain open spaces, the value of unoccupied land 
would increase, this increase would be equal to the sum which the State 
would receive from the sale of the reserved portion. This land brought 
into the market at increased prices would secure a first class popula- 
tion in the Back Bay from the beginning. Unless some such plan were 
adopted, the memorialists reasoned that few persons would be likely to 
purchase land except in the immediate vicinity of the Public Garden. 

Legal title to the land, it was suggested, ought not to be 
conveyed, but the fee should remain in the State, the institutions 
enjoying only a grant of land for their respective specific purposes. 
This portion of land would be subject to its reversion to the State, 
whenever the grantees ceased to use it for the objects specified in the 
gran t . 

Although the memorialists in 1859 requested a portion of Back Bay 
lands for the Conservatory, they failed to describe a particular site 
on which its building ought to be erected. They did, however, stress 
the advantage to the State, both from an educational and financial point 
of view, of establishing a State Institution in the Back Bay area on 
contiguous parcels of land. The benefit which the Commonwealth would 
derive from this proposal did not entice this body to grant land to 
the "Associated Societies". 

With the failure of the Memorial of 1859, William Barton Rogers 
was requested by the members of the Committee to present another 
Memorial to the Legislature in 1860 and on behalf of the "Conservatory 
of Art and Science". He presented the case which coincided in its 

14 general purport with. the Memorial of 1859, but which came to embody 
additional ideas concerning the Conservatory and its proposed site. 

In support of Rogers, were the petitions of the Boston Society of 
Natural History, the Boston Board of Trade, the American Academy of 
Arts and Sciences, the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics' Association, 
the New England Society. These societies were devoted to creating 
Polytechnic Institutions which would bring Science and Art into closer 
communion, and which would promote the scientific, educational and 
industrial interests of the Commonwealth. 

The Second Memorial was more specific about the area of land which 
it hoped the Legislature would assign to the "Conservatory of Art and 
Science". For this grant of land the Memorialists chose that section of 
the Back Bay territory which was described as the area "... between 
Boylston and Newbury; Berkeley and Exeter Streets, and a fraction next 
westerly". The reason for their choice was that "as well from its 
position and convenient shape as from the ample space it would offer 
for the several buildings now and later to be placed upon it, this area 
would be suited to the object in view." The Memorialists believed that 
there were many other associations which, in time would seek to place 
themselves on the same footing with the departments established first 
at the site, bv asking for a share of the reserved land that had not 
vet been appropriated. They felt sure the time would come when not 
only the scientific, industrial and fine art associations, but all 
societies devoted to history, ethnography, literature and public educa- 
tion would be gathered within the same boundaries. 

It was evident that the plan to erect the Conservatory on land in 
the Back Bay contemplated "almost entirely popular and economic 
objectives," yet the second legal report did not succeed in achieving 
its goals. Land was still not granted by the Commonwealth to the 
memorialists. The whole matter of the grant of land turned chiefly 
upon the question whether such grant by the State would or would not 
encroach upon prospective profits to be derived from the sale of adjoin- 
ing territory. Such profits had already in 1859, been set apart by the 
Legislature for the benefit of the "school fund". When in 1860 the 
Memorial was put before the Committee on Education one can see why the 
principal opponent to the grant was the Secretary of the State Board 
of Education. 

After the failure of the second Memorial, Rogers did admit that 15 
the basis of the argument that the Conservatory's improvement would 
double the market value of the adjacent lots, and thus not take from 
the prospective school fund, was limited. To prove this argument, 
he realized that the actual financial evidence in support ought to be 
presented to the Board of Education. 

Acting on this idea, a member of the Conservatory prepared an 
estimate of the financial effect of the proposed Reservation of the 
Back Bay lands. In the Estimate of 1861, presented by Mathias D. Ross, 
there was proof for the soundness of the economic influence of the 
Conservatory building. He recorded the relative value of the filled 
Back Bay lands which by .i86QvJtad been extended to Clarendon "Street. - 
He used the figures obtained from the actual sales of that year to 
forecast the value of the land requested by the memorialists and the 
adjacent territory if the Reservation was not to be built. For this 
he assumed the sale to be at the mean price of lots on ordinary streets. 
Those streets were Boylston, Newbury. Marlboroueh and St. James. He 
also proposed what the value of the lots fronting and to the west of 
the requested land would be, if the Reservation came to be built. For 
this he supposed the adjacent territory would sell for the same price 
as lots fronting Commonwealth Avenue, the Public Garden and the Charles 
River . 

Both the minimum and maximum averaee for which these hiehest 
valued lands in the Back Bay sold in 1860, formed the basis of this- 
last proposal. In the first instance where the sale of adjacent lots 
was founded on the minimum mean, Ross showed that the cost of the 
Reservation would be covered and there would be no gain for or loss to 
the State. Were the sale of the lots to the Reservation at the maximum 
average, its cost would be covered and exceeded. The amount of profit 
to the State would depend on the average assumed as the maximum value 
for these lands (appendix 2) . 

In 1861 the Estimate was attached to the third Memorial, which 
was a separate document. This Memorial was formulated by Rogers who 
also petitioned for a charter to incorporate the Massachusetts Institute 
of Technology, a proposed department of the Conservatory. As a 
combined legal report it was presented to the Committee on Education of 
the Massachusetts Legislature. 

The third Memorial designated the area of land the members of the 
"Conservatory" hoped would be reserved by the State for the buildings 
of each society. Rogers asked the State "to set apart and assign to 
the use of the Boston Society of Natural History and the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology the first section of land lying west of 
Berkeley and between Newbury and Boylston Streets, extending to 
Clarendon Street, the former Society to occupy about 1/3 and the 
latter the remaining 2/3 's of this section." He further asked that 
"the next section of land lying west of Clarendon Street in the same 
range be set apart for the use of the Horticultural Society, for 
ornamental planting and for the erection hereafter of structures 
suited to the wants of this Society and to the decoration of the 
grounds . . . 

Rogers qualified this last statement by saying: 
"...In regard to that portion of the petition of the memorialists which 
relates to the application of the Horticultural Society for the 
adjoining westerly square, the Committee unanimously came to the con- 
clusion that there was no immediate urgency in their case; and as there 
is a doubt existing in some minds as to the propriety of making the 
grant, it was deemed advisable to discuss this branch o r "^e petition, 
and leave it to future developments for legislative action, should it 
be desired." 

In addition to the financial benefit which the State would derive 
from the erection of the Conservatory of Art and Science on land in the 
Back Bay. was the obvious prestige this complex, the first of its kind 
in America, offered the City of Boston. These factors seemed to 
assure its immediate reception. Contrary to expectations, almost 
everything was against its success in 1860 when the Secretary of the 
State Board of Education strongly objected to the memorialists' 
request for a grant of land. The fulfilment of the aims of the Memorial 
was important too for the incorporation of two institutions, the 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Institute of Fine Arts. 
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology would be the first school in 
America in favor of practical education. 

Not all could be disposed against such important plans to create 

a State Conservatory in Boston! Hope for its success was encouraged 

in 1861 when it commanded and excited much attention in New York. 

Ideas of the State Institution and the Technical Institute were 17 

extolled in the Tribune. Inspiration was so great that a similar plan 
on a grand scale was proposed for New York. This scheme was presented 
to the Legislature in Albany, in a bill asking for a charter and liberty 
to build in "the great Central Park" in connection with the zoological 
and botanical gardens, which were about to be instituted there. 

Support of these ideas from the general public favored the even- 
tual success of the third legal report. This Memorial presented in 
March, 1861 embodied the mature plan for a Conservatory of Art and 
Science and the realistic request for land. Finally, acting on the 
third Memorial, the Legislature granted that portion of land in the 
Back Bay for which the memorialists had petitioned. In the same 
session, immediately prior to this event, a charter was issued by the 
State to incorporate the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

For this new Institute, building plans were commenced at the 
same time as those for the Museum of Natural History. Both buildings 
came to occupy the reserved land between Boylston and Newbury, 
Berkeley and Clarendon Streets by 1864»- r The success of the Memorial 
meant that these buildings which represented two departments of the 
Conservatory and which were located at the corner of the area later 
to be known as Copley Square began to shape the State Institution 
and the Copley site. 

The other form of improvement proposed to enhance the Copley area 
was the creation of a public space. Two types of public spaces were 
planned many years apart. The first proposal was for a public park. 
It was envisioned initially in 1860, at least two decades before the 
second form of civic space, a square, was designed. The nature of this 
park varied over a few years, when the method of connecting the Back 
Bay grid to then then unplanned South End territory was being proposed. 
Soon after the final means of the connection had been decided, the 
idea for creating the park was abandoned. Plans for an urban space 
in the area were postponed for twenty years. 

The civic space proposed for the Copley site was planned by a 
group of engineers and surveyors who were gathered together under 
entirely different circumstances from those which governed the forma- 
tion of the "Committee of Associated Institutions". The Committee 
members who hoped to achieve a specific goal remained as a group for 


Two sections of the Conservatory of Art and Science 

The Museum of Natural History begun in 1862 and (Allan Forbes , Copley 
designed by W.G. Preston Square , 1941) 

MIT begun in 1864 and also designed by Preston 


a limited period of time until this aim was fulfilled. The engineers 
and surveyors were employed in a permanent capacity by the Municipal 
Corporation for whom they prepared plans of the City of Boston. 

Their responsibility was limited to map making. They did not 
take part in the buying or selling of land or in the erection of public 
structures. Consequently they were only indirectly involved in the lay- 
out of the city of Boston. Confined to the design of urban elements 
which constitute a city plan, the engineers and surveyors essentially 
described the form of squares, streets and blocks. The formal solution 
of those elements would be moulded by the requirements of that area for 
which they prepared a plan. 

When these city engineers and surveyors came to work on the 
design of the Back Bay, their proposals for portions of that plan had to 
be consistent with the goals set out for its lands. This territory was 
initially conceived as a scheme for the civic improvement of the Charles 
River Bay. Recognizing the Copley area as a relatively unpropitious 
site by 1860, city engineers came <■<-> formulate a number of proposals 
to improve its quality for the benefit of the citizens. 

Prior to these proposals for civic improvement at the Copley 
area, there were two visionary schemes for the Back Bay in which 
the Copley intersection was delineated as a national square. One was 
imagined by Robert Fleming Gourlay in 1844 and the other by David Sears 
in 1848. Both men realized that something had to be done about the 
state of the Charles River Bay which was then a tidal flat. 

Robert F. Gourlay 's plan for the Back Bay development revealed 
an oval island, to be known as the Elysian fields, which centered on 
the future Copley Square (figure 6). Boylston Street ran across the 
bay, laterally bisecting the oval, while Dartmouth Street crossed the 
bay from the Mill Dam, vertically bisecting the Elysian field and then 
on to Circus Island at the intersection of the railroad lines. 

The second scheme was planned by David Sears, who, like Gourlay, 
proposed an oval public space for the Bay Land (figure 7) . However, in 
this scheme, the oval was a 75-acre "Silver Lake" which it was hoped 
.would secure sanitary benefits of fresh air passing over salt water. 
Both Boylston and Dartmouth Streets were terminated by this lake, 
although their extension into the water would allow for their central 
crossing. The grid south of the lake ignored the Boston and Providence 



Robert F. Gourlay's plan for the Back 
Bay development (Whitehill, Boston. A 
Topograph ical History . 1968, p. 146) 

fins Hxuiuuxa x ■ iMi'iu/vi.vf; nit, CITY of BOSTON. 






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David Sear's plan for the Back Bay development 

(Whitehill, Boston; A Topographical History , 1968, p. 150) 

Railroad line and this line seemed to terminate somewhere in the water. 

The solutions of Gourlay and Sears established the precedent for 
the creation of an urban space at the intersection of Boylston and 
Dartmouth Streets, the center of the reclaimed land of the northern and 
southern territories. By the time land fill reached Clarendon Street in 
1860, the first type of urban space to improve the quality of the Copley 
site was proposed by the city engineers and surveyors. This scheme 
for a park was called St. James. Park. It was planned for the land which 
formed the southern boundary of the site and which was located south of 
St. James Street. Of all the land in the vicinity, the site for the 
proposed park had the lowest value. As it belonged to the Boston Power 
Water Company it would sell at fifteen percent less per square foot 
than the lots in the area which belonged to the Commonwe la th . Land on 
Boylston Street which adjoined the northern boundary of the area later 
to become the square, was the property of the Commonwealth. No less 
important was its proximity to the intersection of the two railroad 
lines which subjected the site to noise and smoke pollution. 

Within a period of four years the form of St. James park changed 
many times. Its size, shape, orientation and relative distance from 

other parks was different for each of the Back Bay plans of 1860, 1861 

and 1863 (figures 8, 9 and 10). Metamorphosis of the park was contem- 
porary with the petitions of the memorialists for a grant of State land 
in the vicinity of the proposed park. With the success of the third 
Memorial in 1861 and consequently the allocation of State land for the 
erection of the Conservatory, there was a change made to the proposed 
design of St. James park in the plan of that same year. With the 
construction of one department of the Conservatory in 1863, another 
scheme for the park at the Copley area was designed. 

The plan of 1860 did not yet show an interface between the 
northern and southern lands. In this plan, Huntington Avenue later to 
form the northern boundary of the South End grid, did not intersect 
Boylston and Dartmouth Streets, and the land which would come to be 
reclaimed between that avenue and the Boston and Providence Railroad 
line had not been physically planned. 

In 1860, land at the area had not been reserved for use by the 
other civic improvement proposed, the Conservatory of Art and Science. 
This is explained by the fact that the petition by members of the 

"Conservatory" for a grant of land at the corner of and fronting it had 
failed in the same year. 

The land there was however articulated by St. James Park. It 
was a narrow, isolated residential green similar to Union Park and 
Worcester Square in the South End. In 1860 the length of St. James Park 
was parallel to both Dartmouth and Berkeley Streets. These streets as 
the only connectors with the South End were important elements within 
the plan. Orientation of the park, influenced by the direction of both 
streets would seem to suggest the direction for the blocks of the area 
that had not been laid out. This would be in the same manner that 
Chester and Worcester Squares orient themselves within the street 
pattern of the South End. 

The Copley area in the Dlan of 1861 was still not the point of 
collision of the northern and southern territories. The city engineers 
mapped out this site as the area where the former grid was juxtaposed 
with the grid planned for the South End. The geometry of this latter 
portion of land, which lay at an angle with the Back Bay territory, 
followed the general pattern of the blocks of that territory. The 
angle was determined by the line of the Boston and Providence Railroad 
track. Parallel with this line too, was the section of the southern 
grid between St. James Street and Columbus Avenue and which had its 
own block configuration. This portion of land abutted that area of the 
South End land which met the Back Bay. 

The form of the Copley area in the 1861 plan was the physical 
evidence of the eventual success in that year of the third Memorial. 
Once the land had been granted by the State for the purpose of erecting 
the buildings of two departments of the Conservatory, the block which 
was between Boylston and Newbury, Berkeley and Clarendon Streets in 
the plan of 1861, was shown as reserved. This Reservation was comprised 
of the proposed Museum of Natural History and the structure of the newly 
incorporated Institute of Technology which were set in a park. This 
block came to be called Institute Square. 

The concepts proposed for the Conservatory of Art and Science 
fitted well with the grid configuration. Its geometry easily accom- 
modated the idea of having on the one hand separate sections which were 
to make up the State Institution and on the other integrated departments 
which were in close proximity to one another. The Conservatory was 


■ 24 


Plan for the Back Bay area in 1860, prepared by James Slade, city 

engineer (Bunting, Houses of Boston's Back Bay , p. 376) 

Plan for the Back Bay area in 1861, prepared by H.M. Wightman, surveyor 
and James Slade, city engineer (ibid, p. 373) 





sa ,< 

* i 



rS-—~ *=%, 


S - .< 



Detail of a plan for the Back Bay area In 1863, pre- 
pared by H.M. Wightman, surveyor (ibid, p. 379) 

#fe : 

- BBSS ? 

si. «9 

. A- 

l otS» 





A diagrammatic analysis of che proposed methods 

of connecting the land of the Back Bav to the 

land of the South End, in 1860, 1861 an"d 186 3 

1860 1861 

No collision Two juxtaposed grids 

186 3 

Copley Square at the collision of the two 

initially conceived as being comprised of four sections. By 1861 27 

only two of these had been allocated land. They were "Section 2", the 
Society of Natural History, and "Section 3", the Institute of Technology. 
The 1st section, the Society of Horticulutralists, had not been assigned 
the square for which the memorialists had petitioned. They had 
requested the block west of Institute Square in order to erect Horti- 
cultural Hall. The 4th Section, was to be formed of societies devoted 
to the Fine Arts. The Institute of Fine Arts had not yet been incor- 
porated and land had not come to be granted for its building. 

In the vicinity of Institute Square, one block was reserved for 
use as a park. It was still called St. James Park and was considerably 
larger than its predecessor. Bounded by Huntington Avenue and St. 
James Street, it articulated the grid pattern between that avenue and 
that street. This park formed the structural pivot where the grid 
parallel to the Boston and Providence Railroad lines changed direction 
to follow the line of Boylston Street. Yet by interrupting the length 
of Dartmouth Street, it isolated the northern land from the south. 
Therefore the nature of St. James Park created the Copley area as the 
point which isolated the two juxtaposed grids. 

Finally, in 1863, the Copley site had become the point of 
collision of the grids. In the plan of 1863 it was situated at the 
intersection of Boylston Street, Huntington Avenue and Dartmouth Street, 
which was reestablished as the important communication link between the 
two areas. 

That year saw development at Institute Square. Construction had 
begun on one of its buildings, the Museum of Natural History. The land 
to the west of the square was still not reserved for the purpose of 
constructing Horticultural Hall. In fact its building came to be 
erected in 1864 on Tremont Street, between Bromfield and Bosworth 
Streets. 22 

The plan of 1863 showed St. James Park reoriented toward Boylston 
Street. Its long axis paralleled Dartmouth Street thereby reinforcing 
its prominence. This was to be the final vision for a Dark at the 
southern boundary of the area that 20 vears later was proposed as a 

The park, the Conservatory buildings and the form of the two grids 
of the Back Bay and South End had come to shape the Copley area (figure 
11). In 1860, the year of the failure of the second Memorial, the Copley 
area had not yet become a point of collision. In the following year 
when the form of the South End grid came to be planned, the grant of 
land made, and the nature of St. James Park altered, it became the 
point where the two grids were juxtaposed and where the area of these 
lands was separated. In 1863, when the configuration of the South End 
came to take its executed shape, construction began on a building of 
the Conservatory, and the form of the park adapted once more, the site 
finally became the point of collision of the 2 grids. 

-When in 1860 the connection between the two territories was still 
undecided the initial solution proposed for civic improvement of the 
area was a park and the buildings of the State Institution. By the time 
this connection became the point of collision in 1863, the plan for 
St. James Park had matured. In this scheme the park was to bound the 
area of the intersection on its south side. However this proposal was 
never carried out. It was to be the last scheme for a public park on 
the south of the area. In the following year the plan of J.B. Henck, 
a city engineer, showed the site of St. James Park to be assigned to 

the Institute of Fine Arts, a part of the "Conservatory of Art and 

Science". The executed solution for the connection of the Back Bay 

grid and South End grid was their collision. 2 ^ The result of this 
collision was the physical confusion there of the land parcels. It 
was twenty years before the final decision was made to improve the civic 
quality of this area by its creation as a Square in 1883. 

The civic improvements proposed for the Copley Square site favored 
the realization of the initial aims of the Back Bay. This territory was 
intended to provide the maximum beauty consistent with profitability. 
In the first instance the design for a public park or square would 
enhance the quality of the site and in the second instance the ingenious 
scheme for a Conservatory situated there would profit the State. 
These improvements were directed toward creating at that area the fund- 
amental interrelationship between urban design and architecture as an 
art, and planning and building as business ventures. 

A measure of the success of the civic improvements proposed for the 
Copley area can be determined realistically by an analysis of the value 
of land and the quality of its urban surrounds. The price for which the 
land adjacent to and west of the Museum of Natural History and the 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology came to be sold is indicative of 
the influence this Reservation had on the value of land at the Copley 
area after 1864. The nature of development in the proximity of this 
site after 1883 establishes the effect the creation of the square had on 
the market value of the neighboring land. With this thought in mind, 
the actual price for which the land came to be sold, and the cost of 
erecting buildings on this land shall be traced in the description of 
the history of the development of the square. 



Mrs. William B. Rogers and William T. Sedgewick, eds., Life and Letters 
of William Barton Rogers, Vol. II (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 
1896), p. 12. 


Walter Muir Whitehill, Boston: A Topographical History, (Cambridge: 
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975), 2nd ed . , p. 158. 


See: Life and Letters of William Barton Rogers, p. 34. 

Rogers wrote his brother, on May 29, 1860, "...while in London [can you] 

gather up all documents relating to the Kensington Museum, that in 

Jermyn Street, etc., which might be of assistance in digesting such a 

plan? You will do us a great service by sending me such as you collect." 


Albert Fein, "The American City: The Ideal and the Real," The Rise of 
an .American Avohi tea tare , with an Introduction by Edgar Kaufmann (New 
York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), on. 51-111. 


Life a7id Letterc, p. 7. 


ibid. , p. 10. 


ibid, pp. 420-422. 


ibid., p. 416 



ibid., pp. 19-20. 

Roger's letter to his brother, January 30, 1860. 


ibid. , p. 24. 


ibid. , p. 29. 


"Financial estimate 1861". 


See the "Financial estimate" for more detail concerning the sale of 
lands in the Back Ray. The average price of lots, per square foot as 
obtained from the actual sales of 1360 were for lots fronting Common- 
wealth Avenue, Public Garden or the Charles River, S2.S7; and for 
lots fronting ordinary streets, Soylston, Newbury, Marlborough and St. 
James Streets, SI. 33 2/9. 


Life and Letters, p. 425. 


ib id . , p . 421. 


ibid., p. 69. 

Letter of February 13, 1361. 



Whitehill, .-1 Topocrapkiaal iHatonjj po. 146-149. 


ibid. , pp. 149-150. 


Bainbridge Bunting, Houses of Boston's Jack Bay: An Architectural 
History, 1840-1317 (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 
1975), pp. 376, 377, 379. 


See detailed description of the "sections" of the Conservatory of 

Art and Science, p. 

22. Edwin M. Bacon, ed., Bacon's Dictionary of Boston (City, 1883) . 
At the same time that the Conservatory of Art and Science was formed, 
the Horticultural Society sold their building on School Street. Rooms 
were then secured for the society on the corner of Washington and West 
Streets. When the memorialists failed to acnuire the grant of land 

for the purpose of erecting Horticultural Hall, the Society looked for 
land elsewhere. In 1863 the estate then known as Montgomery house 
was purchased and on August 18, 1864 the cornerstone of the second 
building was laid. 



Plan of December 9, 1864 by J, 

p. 139. 

B. Henck, Book of Deeds, Lib 845, 


See p. for description of the land parcels at the Copley Square area 

in 1863. 


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Plan of the Back Bay, 1874, showing the direction of land fill. Notice 
the direction of blocks of the grid particularly those blocks fronting 
Columbus Avenue ( Atlas of the County of Suffolk, Mass . , 1874, Suffolk 
County Registry of Deeds, County Courthouse, Boston) 





Development at the Copley Square Area was unique within the Back 
Bay and South End grids. The building process and pattern there dif- 
fered from those areas to which it bore physical and functional resem- 
blance. Construction at the Copley site, which was structured as one 
of the two points where these grids met, and which was laid out as a 
typical Back Bay block, varied from that at the other area of inter- 
section, Park Square, and from building within the Back Bay blocks. 

Land filling operations within the Back Bay and South End were 
influenced by the geometrical nature of each grid. The layout of their 
blocks determined in which direction fill could proceed (figure 12) . 
These blocks extended land along their length. Within all of the Back 
Bay their length is west-east and parallel to the main avenue, and 
within most of the South End grid, it is north-south and perpendicular 
to this area's long axis, with the exception of the blocks fronting 
Columbus Avenue whose lengths are parallel to that avenue. 

As soon as the land was laid following the line of blocks, so each 
owner built on his property. This sequential pattern of fill and build 
also meant that within a block buildings dated from approximately the 
same time, a situation that promotes architectural and stylistic 
consistency. It meant too that as each grid continued land to its 
destination it not only imposed its physical form on that end point, but 
also portended the nature and character of its buildings following 
closely behind. 

At the same time that the Back Bay continued fill from the Public 
Garden to the west, the South End grid extended the land northwest from 
Columbus Avenue, to focus on the Copley area in the 1870' s, and so 
presage its future. Simultaneously too, that part of the South End grid 
whose blocks fronted Columbus Avenue proceeded fill operations from 
Kest Chester Park toward the northeast, to collide at Park Square 


t/oynsar ao/ta/Ni t/oy*a. ar swear*} £ /o v*s op ounotw 

-\ + * \ 1 * 4 

Concentrations of large-scale public 

buildings at the corners of the Back 

Bay grid 

North-south building from Marlboro 

to Boylston Streets occurred within 

approximately ten years 

East-west building within one block 

occurred in approximately ten years 

(figure 13) . Consequently both points of intersection developed to- 35 
gether but under entirely different conditions. 

Columbus Avenue, along which residences had developed, marched from 
the South End into the already established wholesale business quarter 
of Boston. Before it could terminate at Park Square, the Boston and 
Providence Railroad Station, built in 1835, had to be removed as it 
barred the way of that avenue. It could not continue its path 
northerly beyond Berkeley Street until negotiations between the rail- 
road company and the city had settled the issue of demolishing the 
station. Finally, in the latter part of 1871, the City decided to 
buy from the railroad company, the property necessary to carry out the 
extension of Columbus Avenue. By 1872, a new station designed by 
Peabody and Stearns already had been erected on the land to the north- 
west of the former site. 

When Columbus Avenue eventually came to terminate at Park Square, 
that avenue imposed its broad and linear geometry on the "crooked" 
street pattern of the surrounding area. The "square" itself only 
a triangular "bit of green" was unimportant next to the new railroad 
building. The station became the focal point! 

It had an excellent local business, serving a great number of 

towns in Norfolk and Bristol Counties by its main line and branches, 

and it also formed part of the popular Shore (all rail) and Stonington 

(rail and steamboat) lines in New York. This district was the chief 

financial and commercial region, with courts, banks, newspapers, 

offices, theatres. Further, the railway structure was in close 

proximity to apartment hotels. The Pelham, the first apartment house 

to come to America in 1857 was located nearby at the corner of 

3oylston and Tremont Streets. Opposite it was the Hotel Boylston, built 

in 1870. 

The design concept of this newly established building type, 
called family hotels or the "French flat" was for a single tenement 
to occupy the whole or part of a floor, instead of taking up several 
• xoors m a house. This meant that building of apartment hotels 
required more horizontal space than that for private houses. Therefore 
•arger parcels of land were needed for their construction. The 
■T.-ai lability of such land within the built-up area was minimal. 

Because there was a demand for these buildings which had become the 
favorite type of dwelling in Boston, when new land was created with the 
filling of the tidal flats of the Charles River, many apartment houses 
began to invade the Back Bay and South End grids. 

Anticipated by the Pelham on Boylston Street, the apartment hotels 
that appeared in the South End were the Hotel Clarendon (1868) at the 
corner of Tremont and Berkeley Streets, St. Cloud Hotel (1869) at 
565-569 Tremont Street; and in the Back Bay were the Hotel Hamilton 
(1869) at 260 Clarendon Street by Ware and Van Brunt, Hotel Kempton 
(1869) at 237 Berkeley Street and Hotel Agassiz (1872) at 191 Common- 
wealth Avenue by Weston and Rand. 

By the mid-1870 's the inhabitants of the South End and the Back Bay 
were attracted to the Park Square area where the new station had been 
built. Columbus Avenue from the South End and Boylston Street from the 
Back Bay were the routes to this region. The collision of that avenue 
and that street had effected there the creation of a new and important 
building, the Boston and Providence Railroad Station. 

At the other point of connection of these two territories, however, 
filling operations provided new land for a whole new built environment. 
In the 1870 's this site, the Copley area, came to be situated at the 
intersection of Boylston and Dartmouth Streets and the nature of build- 
ings along them presaged the kind of environment-to-be. Boylston 
Street in the Back Bay was comprised of both institutional and apart- 
ment buildings. The public structures were the Museum of Natural 
History, MIT and a number of churches, and the apartment buildings were 
the Hotels Pelham, Boylston and Berkeley. Dartmouth Street from the 
South End extended residential and educational buildings toward the 
Copley site. In fact, by the end of this decade, a number of apartment 
houses and public buildings came to be gathered at the intersection of 
these streets. 

This was not the only concentration of public and residential 
buildings within the Back Bay grid. Contemporary with it were a number 
of coagulations comprised of public buildings and apartment hotels 
located along the short axes of the grid. These north-south coagula- 
tions were typical within the Back Bay. Their nature was determined 
by both the configuration of blocks and the development process within 
the Back Bay grid. 

The typical pattern was the linear focus of large-scale buildings 37 
along the length of the cross streets of the grid. There were two 
buildings for each block, one for the north corner and one for the 
south corner (figure 13). The higher value of land at the corner of 
the blocks relative to the sale price of lots within the center of the 
block motivated the consolidation of land parcels there for the erection 
of these large-scale buildings. They were the means to realize the 
value of land at the corners of the grid. Consolidation of land for 
these buildings was allowed on one condition: building codes imposed 
the restriction that the main elevation of the structure front the 
important street. This meant that the large-scale buildings oriented 
their principal facades toward the north or the south, so that they 
flanked the cross streets of the Back Bay. 

The fact that the main streets and alleyways of the grid inter- 
rupted the north-south axis meant that corner buildings could only 
occupy the depth of the block from the street to the alley. This 
distance was only 100 feet'. These structures could not extend their 
mass from corner to corner and seal the alley, which in the mid- 
nineteenth century was too important an element within the Back Bay to 
be abandoned. Because there were no shops in the area, and because 
the mode of living there dicated the need for domestic help, the. 
alleys were the place within the center of the block where the house 
staff accepted deliveries from grocers, butchers, etc. Houses were 
located between the large-scale buildings and at the center of the 
block, upon the land which had the lower value. Both these large and 
small scale buildings turned their backs to the alley. 

The resultant linear massing of buildings from Beacon to Boylston 
Streets was similar for both corners and central sections of each block. 
At most corner sites focal points were created by four large-scale 
buildings which fronted the main street. These foci articulated the 
linear coagulation from north to south. Likewise concentrations of 
houses were created along the north-south axis of the grid and not 
within the confines of the block itself. 

The character of these concentrations came to be determined by the 
process of land fill. Because building followed closely behind fill 
which continued the north-south coagulation westward, the north-south 
structures developed at approximately the same time. Following the 

38 construction of large buildings at the corners of a cross street, were 

the erection of residential buildings, creating the central mass between 
that cross street and the next one west of it. Subsequently the public 
buildings along the north-south axis of that western cross street 
developed. A typical linear coagulation of large-scale buildings and 
covering a distance of 1200 feet occurred over a period of about ten 
years. Within the same period of time the central focus of residences 


developed upon half that distance. North-south development was at 
twice the rate of east-west building and both were within a relatively 
short interval. 

This meant that the linear focus structures situated along its 
entire length were architecturally quite consistent and were rendered 
in similar styles. As the grid extended the land a few blocks westward, 
the style of all buildings coagulated at the east would be essentially 
different from those concentrated at the west. Likewise the residences 
in the center of each block, between cross streets, generally revealed 
their similar character between the northern and southern boundaries of 
the Back 3ay. 

This sequential pattern of fill and build implied that it would 
continue its process until all the land was filled and all the buildings 
built within the Back Bay grid. In reality this did not occur! As with 
construction elsewhere in America, the Back Bay was affected by the 
state of general business conditions. After the financial crises of 
both 1873 and 1893, building activity at the areas where large-scale 
structures were gathered, with the exception of one concentrated area, 
declined considerably. The periods of decreased construction were: 
1872-1876 and 1887-1899. 9 

Indeed, the exceptional area that saw building waves during the 
depressed times experienced prosperity within both periods of lesser 
activity. Building therefore continued there over an extended period 
of time, unlike building at the corners of the blocks which occured 
within a decade. The general layout of this particular area was the 
same as a typical Back Bay block, but its concentrated development 
which occurred over twenty-five years, was different from the linear 
form of the area where large-scale buildings were focussed in the Back 

The atypical area where monumental buildings were amassed in the 39 
Back Bay was the Copley area. Its structures were concentrated around 
a central space. The form of this space which developed over a long 
period of time, was affected by a major decision made for it in 1883. 
Because of this decision the particularity of the area within the 
structure of the Back Bay grid is qualified with reference to the 
formulation and execution of that decision. The history of the form 
of the Copley area is related in three stages. In the first stage the 
area is described before the issue for making a decision about space 
was raised, in the second step at the moment of the decision, and in 
the third after the decision was realized. 



Sanborn Insurance Atlas, 1868, Vol. 2. 


Boston Illustrated (Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1872), p. 42. 


Boston Illustrated, 1878 ed. , p. 52. 


Bacon 's Dictionary 


St. James Hotel (1867) on West Newton Street by M. M. Ballou was a 
commercial hotel in the South End. 

The Hotel Vendome (1871) at the corner of Dartmouth Street and Common- 
wealth Avenue, in the Back Bay, was a commercial hotel which also 
catered to some permanent tenants. 


Information derived from the following Insurance Atlases: 

Sanborn Insurance Atlas, Vol. 1, 1874; 

Atlas of the County of Suffolk Massachusetts, Vol. 1, 1874; 

Bromley Atlas of the City of Boston, 1889. 


See the dates of buildings in Bunting, Houses of Boston's Back Bay, 

Appendix, pp. 402-460. 

Linear development of large-scale buildings along Dartmouth and Exeter 

Streets from the northern corners of Boylstonto the southern corners 

of Marlborough Streets, covering a distance of 1200 feet occurred in a 

period of + ten years. This meant 120 feet were built in one year in 

the north-south direction. 

40 8. 

Central concentration of residences between Marlborough and Boylston 
Streets from Clarendon to Dartmouth Streets, covering a distance of 
600 feet took place within ten years; and from Dartmouth to Exeter 
Streets, over the same distance occurred within the same time. This 
meant 60 feet were built in one year in the east-west direction. 


ibid. , p. 5 . 





When the land fill of the Back Bay and South End met at the 
Copley site in 1870, the sequential process of fill and build was 
abandoned. Only after all the land was available did building begin 
there and then in piecemeal fashion. Within this decade construction 
was in two waves. The first took place during the decreased building 
activity period, 1872-1876, when only public buildings dotted the 
north, east and south sides surrounding the vacant area of land 
(figure 16) . 

The first of these public structures built at the site was the 
Museum of Fine Arts (1870-1876). It was planned for that parcel of 
land situated south of the area (figure 17). Initially this land had 
the lowest value of all the lots in the vicinity and inspired little 
confidence in its relative worth. The principal motive for the 
building of the Museum was to increase the value of its land, just as 
its predecessor, St. James Park, was planned to do. 

Before land fill reached the Copley Area, the memorialist who had 
prepared the Financial Estimate of 1861 for the Back Bay lands, Mr. 
M. D. Ross, determined the future for the fill planned north of the 
intersection of the railway lines. In the first half of this decade 
he urged the Boston Water Power Company, the owners of this parcel of 
land, to convey it to the City in trust to be used for an Institute of 
Art or a Square. Mr. Ross persuaded members of that Company that the 
construction of the Museum would increase the purchase price of their 
land in its proximity. He swayed the outcome of their decision by 
describing the benefit the public would derive from the erection of the 
Museum of Fine Arts in the neighborhood of the Museum of Natural 
History and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As part of the 
'--x tensive plan of the Conservatory, Fine Arts was associated with the 
Progress of higher and more humane culture of the community. Its 



The Back Bay in 1861 (Whitehill, Boston: A Topographical History, p. 158) 


The Back Bay in 1871 (ibid., p. 159) 

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•'-tail of the plan of the Back Say showing the Copley Square area in 
; 374 ( Atlas of the County of Suffolk, Mass ., 1874, Suffolk County 
R tpistry of Deeds, County Courthouse, Boston) 





i-*||||l ZLIST} OUCpX. 

Aoycs/ON SJ*££T 

The process of development at 
the Square area, 1870-1880 

cultivation was to be regarded as a "necessary" supplement, in every 45 
wise system of education, to the teachings of practical science and 
the more purely logical exercises of thought. 

As early as 1864 the success of the idea proposed by Ross became 
apparent when, in a plan of that portion of the Back Bay, the land of 

the former St. James Park was designated as the land for the "Institute 

of Fine Arts." This proposal was officiated on 22nd December 1865 

when the Boston Water Power Company granted that piece of land bounded 

by Dartmouth, Stuart and St. James Streets and Trinity Place to the 

city to be held until a charter was issued incorporating such an 


Five years passed before the Massachusetts Legislature issued an 
Act incorporating the Trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts. Already in 
the previous year the land reserved for the building to house the Fine 
Arts was available for the envisioned improvement and it was not left 
fallow during this period. In June 1869, a temporary coliseum, in 
which a National Peace Jubilee was held, was erected there. Its 
presence was short-lived when in 1870 the moment for building the Museum 
was ripe. A grant of land had been set aside. Funds were available 
and collections of artworks needed to be housed. 

Following a competition, the design for the new Museum was 
awarded on December 10, 1870 to Sturgis and Brigham. The building was 
opened on July 3, 1876. The length of the proposed building was pre- 
determined by the long axis of the lot, which paralleled Dartmouth 
Street. Just as a corner building of the Back Bay grid oriented its 
main elevation to the more important street, so the principal facade 
of the Museum was initially designed to front Dartmouth Street, the 
communication link between the Back Bay and South End. As completed, 
the Museum was one lateral half of the symmetrical design facing that 
street, and presented its flank to St. James Street and the Copley site. 
The main elevation never came to be completed. 

The facade fronting the site became the important one for that 
building. By 1878 the character of that elevation lent itself to 
describing a civic space, and so anticipated the idea for a square 
there. In fact, the author of the 1878 edition of Boston Illustrated, 
described the location of the Museum of Fine Arts as being on Art 
Square. He knew that the initial design for the building had not been 





The Peace Jubilee Coliseum, 1869, built on the site of the Museum of 

Fine Arts ( Allan Forbes, Copley Square , 1941) 


The Peace Jubilee Coliseum, 1872, built south of the site of the Museum 

of Fine Arts (ibid.) 



The proposed design for the Museum of Fine Arts ( Boston Illustrated , 

1878, p. 42e) 




The Museum of Fine Arts showing the west wing upon Copley Square area 

and opened to the public in 1876 (Forbes, Copley Square, 1941) 


The Museum of Fine Arts showing the completed front on Copley Square 

area and opened in 1879 (Courtesy Print Department, Boston Public Library) 

ttfftlggSI I 




completed but was unaware that that facade directed to the urban area, 49 

was not intended as the main elevation. He said: "The main front is 

already finished, and faces Art Square, with a projecting portico in - 

the centre, enriched with polished marble columns. The right wing is 

adorned with a great bas-relief representing Art receiving the tributes 

of all nations; and the left wing is to have a companion piece, 

illustrating the union of Art and Industry." 

Trinity Church (1872-1877) was the second large-scale building 
planned for the site. For the first time within the Back Bay a single 
building came to occupy an entire parcel of land. Its structure was 
proposed for the area's eastern wedge bounded by Huntington Avenue, 
St. James and Clarendon Streets. For its creation, the alley, 
Providence Street, between Clarendon Street and Huntington Avenue 
had to be sealed. This alley was 25 feet wide and exceeded by 9 feet 
the typical passageway punctuating the Back Bay blocks. Had it 
remained as initially planned the two pieces of land it connected would 
have become islands within a sea of streets. Under these circumstances 
Trinity Church might have become the example to set the precedent for 
the erection of buildings on the other wedges of land within the 
square area. 

The consolidation of the site for Trinity Church was within a 
6 month period. The rectangular piece of land, bounded by Providence, 
Clarendon and St. James Streets and Huntington Avenue, and having an 
area of 24,800 square feet was purchased on June 1, 1872 by the 
Congregation of the Church. The land was chosen after a year of 
searching for an appropriate site. The decision to move from the 
original location was made in December 1870, before the great fire of 
Boston in 1872. This decision was effected because the surrounding 
""■rea had been invaded by commercial enterprise. A competition was 
•-itiated for the design of Trinity Church on this rectangle. H. H. 
: '"ardson was awarded the commission based on his design for that 
"rion of land. 

In June 1872, the triangular section covering 14,687% square feet, 
".nded by Huntington Avenue and Providence and Clarendon Streets was 
:: t from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by Frank D. Evans, a 
"vr of the congregation. In the same month it was sold to Trinity 
;r ch and consolidated with the rectangular piece. 



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fcriPS ff£s 


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1 i " / — ~ <•■>« ■«-, ••uMniMia:'," -»« 


Construction of Trinity Church and the Copley Square area, 1874 

(Whitehall, "Back Bay Churches and Public Buildings," Proceedings of 

the Bostonian Society, 1958) 


Construction of Trinity Church looking toward the residence of Samuel 

N . Brown ( ib i d . ) 



Trinity Church, view from Clarendon Street 

(Forbes, Copley Square, 1941) 




Chauncy Hall School on 
Boylston Street ( Boston 
Illustrated , 1878, 
P. 48) 



Second Church on Boylston Street 

(Forbes, Copley Square , 1941) 

The form of the consolidated land resulted in it being surrounded 53 

by three streets. This meant that a building designed for it ought to 

celebrate three important facades, one to each street. Richardson 

recognized the physical implications imposed by this consolidated piece 

of land. His idea for solving the problem of a three-sided building 

was to incorporate a prominent central feature, which would belong 

equally to each front of the building. This feature he envisaged as 

the tower to the Church. Rather than putting it on any one corner, 

where from at least one side it would be nearly out of sight, and thus 

an inconvenient and unnecessary addition, he proposed that it become 

the main element. 

The consolidation of land meant too that the building closed the 
vista to Providence Street. Consequently Trinity Church presented a 
continuous and important front to the urban space situated at the inter- 
section of the northern and southern territories. The area bounded by 
Boylston and Dartmouth Streets, St. James Avenue and Trinity Place 
then came to approximate a square. 

A third piece of development, comprised of two public buildings, 
was located on the north side of Boylston Street. Its central position 
was different from the typical siting of public buildings on the 
corners of the Back Bay blocks. For the first time in this territory 
two individual large-scale structures were built side by side and along 
the east-west axis of the grid. 

Chauncy Hall School (1873) and the Second Church (1873-1875) 
constructed simultaneously, formed this development whose buildings 
were designed by different architects. The School was planned by A. C. 
Martin and the Church by N. J. Bradlee. Both were relatively small 
buildings, the School extending over three Back Bay lots and the 
Church over five, but presented themselves as one combined and complex 
:acade to the area of the Copley site. 

One can imagine this elevation as a continuous wall moving back 
and forth with respect to the urban space it fronted. The wall was 
partially created by the symmetrical facade of the Second Church 
situated to the fore on Boylston Street and belieing its asymmetrical 
background. This backdrop then connected itself to the flank of 
Chauncy Hall School only to jut back toward the street and front the 
area once again. Their connection eased the transition between the 

5 different forms of the buildings. 

By the end of the decade, the School, as one of the oldest and 
most celebrated private schools in Boston, enhanced the value of the 
area in the City. Many of the students who graduated from the school 
then attended the neighboring Institute of Technology. It is fair to 
presume that the building of the School was influenced by the location 
of MIT, and that the governing body of the School wished it to be 
"gathered within the same boundaries" as the Conservatory of Art and 

Contemporary with the development of that built piece of the 
Chauncy Hall School and the Second Church, and located on the north side 
of the Copley area, was the construction of another church at the north- 
west corner of the site. The structure of the (New) Old South Church 
(1873-1875) celebrated its position at the intersection of the two 
important streets, Boylston and Dartmouth. Its architects, Cummings 
and Sears, designed the wall of the crossing of nave and transept as 
being similarly disposed to both streets. The outer vestibule too 
enhanced the intersection by projecting an arched corner toward it. 
One arch was an entrance driveway for carriages. 

There was one exception to the construction of public buildings 

only at the Copley site during the first phase of development. In 

1872 a private residence for Samuel N. Brown was established at the 

corner of Dartmouth and St. James Streets. Although the long axis 

of this house was on the former street, its entrance fronted St. James. 

Consequently this building turned away from the "urban space. 

By 1876 within a period of three years, five public buildings 
found their place at the Copley area. Concentrated as pieces within an 
arm surrounding a central space these buildings were, on the north, 
Chauncy Hall School (1873), the Second Church (1873-74), and the (New) 
Old South Church (1973-75); on the east, Trinity Church (1872-77); 
and on the south, the Museum of Fine Arts (1870-76). 

Within the next four years; this enclosing arm came to be 
entirely filled in with buildings. Its filling coincided with the 
period of increased construction in the Back Bay (1876-1887). The 
second wave of development at the Copley site was confined to the 
erection only of residential buildings (figure 14) . 



(New) Old South Church at the north-west corner of 
the Copley site (King, King's "How to See Boston ." 
1883, p. 147) 


The residence of Samuel N. Brown looking toward Dart- 
mouth Street (Forbes, Copley Square . 1941) 

The pieces of land to be filled in with buildings were on the 57 

north side of the Copley area. They were comprised mostly of consoli- 

dated parcels of land. Their consolidation anticipated the develop- 
ment of the newly established apartment type house there. 

The Hotels Cluny and Bristol were the two apartment hotels 
erected for the northeast corner of the Copley area. As a piece of 
development in the Back Bay their building was extraordinary! Three 
years after the Hotel Cluny nad been established, its neighbor the 
Hotel Bristol was built in 1879 at the intersection of Boylston and 
Clarendon Streets. Creation of the corner hotel after its neighbor 
differed from the sequence of building within each Back Bay block, 
whose eastern extremities were initially built. For the first time 
within this area, two apartment houses were built adjacent to one 
another. The fact too that their long axes were perpendicular to the 
important street, Boylston Street, reinforced their particularity. 
During their building, single family brownstone dwellings came to 
nestle between the special pieces of development, Chauncy Hall School 
and Second Church, and the Hotels Cluny and Bristol. And so, in 1879 
the north side to the area was completed. 

Creation of the Hotel Huntington in 1877 at the south-west 
corner of the Copley area, and at the intersection of Dartmouth Street 
and Huntington Avenue, portended the nature of the development of that 
avenue for the next year tens. In 1878 it was a "noble boulevard" 

fronting which were, as yet, no buildings, and it stretched away to the 

south-west for nearly a mile. 

By 1880, and after a decade of development, large-scale structures 
were amassed at the Copley site. Their coagulation was comprised of 
educational, cultural and religious organizations, and apartment hotels. 
Included in their mass were a number of single-family residences. By 
their nature, these buildings formed an enclosing arm to the area of 
the Copley site, an arm that envisaged a future role for it. 

On the south was the Museum of Fine Arts, whose flank on St. James 
Avenue worthily sustained its unexpected role as a principal facade 
■rooting an urban space. The central tower and mass of Trinity 
Church created the eastern focus. Development on the north presented 
to the area a continuous and complex wall, punctuated by two particular 
developments. The New Old South Church celebrated the north-east 


corner of the site. One structure only turned away from the urban 
space. It was the Samuel N. Brown residence located at the south- 
west corner. 

The urban area so formed was held to be an important place in 
Boston: "...the triangular space is made one of the architectural 
centers of the city by the contiguity of Trinity Church, the Museum of 
Fine Arts, the New Old South Church, and other new buildings." 

The triangular space, or Art Square as it had been called, formed 
a corner at the intersection of Dartmouth and Boylston Streets. 
Dartmouth Street was the typical north-south linear coagulation of 
large-scale buildings established in the Back Bay. Boylston Street 
had become the linear focus of public buildings along the west-east 
axis of the Back Bay grid. Their development as twin centers of 
interest anticipated the future importance the triangular corner came to 
command after 1880. 

Before the erection of buildings at the Copley corner, the actual 
cost of land fronting Boylston Street was indicative of the importance 
of that street and the influence the Conservatory of Art and Science 
had on the value of that land. The cost of the two parcels purchased 
in 1872 for the building of Trinity Church, are examples which show the 
increase in the actual sale of land relative to the price for which the 
land was supposed to sell in that year (appendix 3). The selling price 
of the triangular parcel of land, whose apex was located at Boylston 
Street, had increased more than twofold. The rectangular land fronting 
St. James Avenue had become nearly four times more valuable. Figures 
from both these sales approximated the average cost of land on Common- 
wealth Avenue for 1872. 

The relative influence of both Boylston Street and Commonwealth 
Avenue was the same ten years later. This is proven by an analysis 
of the value in 1881 of two similar buildings, one on the corner of 
Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street, and the other on the corner 
of Boylston Street and Clarendon Street. The first structure was the 
Hotel Vendome, built in 1871 and enlarged in 1881. The second was the 
Hotel Brunswick, built in 1874-1876. Both buildings were situated on 
like parcels of land, the Vendome covered an area of 240 feet by 125 
feet and the Brunswick 224 feet by 125 feet. Their main facades 
fronted Commonwealth Avenue and Boylston Street respectively. 

Considered prominent commercial hotels, they attracted many distinguish- 59 
ed visitors. The cost of erecting each of these two buildings was 
the same, $1,000,000. This represented the relative value of the 
streets on which the Vendome and Brunswick were located. 

No less important an influence on the shape and quality of the 
Copley site, than the actual development surrounding it, were the 
proposals for its interior space. Located at the intersection of the 
two grids, its form was comprised of a number of disjointed wedges of 
land (figure 30). By the mid-1870's, each section belonged to a 
different enterprise, that is two institutions, one corporation, an 
individual and the Commonwealth (figure 16). With a single exception, 
which constituted only one percent of the square area, all interior 
parcels of land had a building designed for them. There were proposals 
for both public buildings and high density dwellings. 

The most significant of these was the scheme for a Chemical 

Institute. Outlined as a plan in the 1874 map of the City of Boston, 

it was located on the trapezoidal land lying at the intersection of 

Boylston Street and Huntington Avenue and covering an area of 13,194 

square feet. Originally this site had belonged to the Commonwealth of 

Massachusetts, but in 1872 the members of the corporation of MIT 

petitioned for this land to be granted them for the building of a 

Chemical Laboratory. The need for this structure arose when, with the 

increase in the number of students in that year, the lack of working 

space for executing chemical experiments was reinforced. 

The laboratories were initially planned to be incorporated in the 

building proposed by Professor Ware for the corner of Boylston and 

Clarendon Streets on Institute Square. Large funds were necessary for 

:he erection of this monumental structure to be in architectural 

-.armony with the existing building east of it. The President of the 

institute, Professor Walker, at the corporation meeting of December 27, 
372, deemed such a large scale proposal unnecessary for that time and 

consequently its plans were shelved. The issue then raised at that 

~<--eting was how the impending need for Chemistry Laboratories could be 
-leviated. The President proposed that only a small building of 
'cerate cost should be built to house the chemistry equipment and to 

• rovide additional working space. He believed it ought to be a separate 


acrftsjw spteer 

ST.J4M63 AW*K 

TsZ l JZT c at c °>^ s <— ■ 

building, for which a relatively small piece of land would suffice. 
It was decided to retain the whole western portion of the Institute 
land for the future erection of the large-scale building. The problem 
for the Committee members then became where to build the Chemical 

Its land had to be a grant and so the members were faced with 
securing from the Commonwealth a site in the vicinity of the Copley 
area. Most of the adjacent territory already had either been allotted 
or sold by the State to other organizations. The only land available 
nearby, was an odd-shaped piece diagonally opposite the existing MIT 
building. Its ownership, location and size benefitted the idea for a 
small chemistry building. 

Consequently, a 'Committee of Seven 'was appointed to undertake 
the whole subject of a separate building for chemistry and present it 
to the Legislature in written form. Three months later the reserved 
land was granted to the Institute. The Act of April 9, 1873 granting 
additional land to the Institute included certain conditions. In the 
first instance, MIT had the perpetual right to occupy and control free 
of rent and charge by the Commonwealth, the land on which the Chemistry 
Laboratory was to be built. This was subject to the regulations 
relative to the Commonwealth land on the south side of Boylston Street. 
The land was to be reserved from sale for ever. • In the second 
instance, if MIT used land for any purpose other than the Chemical 
Laboratory, the Commonwealth would take possession of the land. 

After the land had been granted, the plans and estimates for 

the proposed new building were formulated and presented to the Committee 

-embers. The Estimate was far in excess of the sum contemplated for 

the building, and the situation was further aggravated by the depres- 
s-on of 1873, when money was not readily available. Plans to erect the 
"crural Laboratory could not proceed. 

This delay in building allowed for a two-year incubation period 
-'•<-'n the original idea of civic improvement conceived for this area 
i-c- to the fore once again. Interest was expressed in creating a 
; ^-ic Square on the consolidated parcel of land to be comprised of 
trapezoid belonging to MIT and the abutting privately owned 
tangle. The idea was proposed by the same two groups of men who 
•'•"i- initially set on enhancing the quality of the site in the 1860's. 


62 The first group were the members of the Committee of MIT, a constituent 
of the former "Conservatory of Art and Science", which had been dis- 
banded as an association as soon as the purpose to secure land for the 
erection of its representative societies had been fulfilled. In 1875 
the Committee members of the Institute thought that a public square 
there would be a great ornament to the City, and were amenable to its 

execution on the exchange of their trapezoidal land for another lot 

suited to the erection of the Chemistry Building. 

The second group interested in the improvement of the area, were 

the Park Commissioners of the City of Boston. On June 9, 1875, the 

City Clerk acted on their behalf and sent a letter to the Institute in 

relation to the authority granted by the State to release to the City 

the trapezoidal land which was held by the Institute so that a public 

square could be created thereon. 

In view of the retraction of Institute land by the State and the 

then extreme lack of chemical laboratory space, the Institute in the 

following year erected for this purpose a temporary structure adjacent 

to the existing building. Even after all its efforts, the City did not 

act on the June letter and the idea for a park was set aside. In fact, 

all seemed against the creation of an urban space on the trapezoidal 

land when the Institute of Technology was given the right in 1879 to 

retain possession of it and a building was proposed once again. The 

second structure for this land was designed by Mr. Dabney who was asked 

to negotiate contracts for its erection. Furthermore, on the other part 

of the land upon which the park was envisaged a building was planned 

in 1878. This land, a rectangle, measuring 100 feet by 125 feet 

belonged to Franklin Evans, and was located at the intersection of 

Boylston and Dartmouth, the two important streets in the area. The 


erection of the envisioned apartment hotel there would result in 

establishing it as a prominent structure for the area.' 

Ground for a third building proposed for an interior parcel of 
the Copley land, was broken in 1884. This triangle south of Providence 
Street originally belonged to the Boston Water Power Company, but in 
1883 was sold to become privately owned. The structure for this 
wedge east of Huntington Avenue was to be an apartment house, and, 
located directly opposite the Trinity Church door, it masked both the 

Church and the Museum. 

Development on the odd-shaped portion of land allotted each of 
the three schemes would make for a physically unfavorable environment. 
Buildings upon the wedges would result in fragmented urban form, not 
to mention the ingenuous design required for planning a structure on 
such an odd site. The proposed Chemical Institute truly represented 
the difficulty the land created. This building had a peculiar outline, 
and one which rendered its remaining area "left-over-land." 

What had happened to the initial idea for civic improvement, 
conceived in the 1860's, to enhance the quality of the area? 



See Chapter 1, p. for the value of land at the Copley area. 


Book of Deeds, Lib. 856, p. 139. 


Boston Illustrated, 1878 ed., p. 52. 


H.H. Richardson, "A description of Trinity Church," p. 13. 


Boston Illustrated, 1878 ed., p. 42c. 

Second Church was described as "a neat little Brownstone Church". 


Boston Illustrated, 1872 ed., p. 49. 



In the map of 1874: to the west of Dartmouth Street, St. James is a 

street, whereas to the east it is an avenue. 


In 1874, 3 lots of land at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth Streets 
and to the west of Chauncy Hall School belonged to Charles A. Wood; 
apart from one lot adjacent to the Second Church, Thomas Gaffield owned 
seven parcels fronting Boylston Street; and the next three lots east 
of this were owned by James T. Eldredge. 


Douglas Shand Tucci, Built in Boston: City and Suburb, 1800-1950 (Boston: 



Little, Brown & Company, 1978), p. 104. 

The Cluny is described by Tucci as an example of the apartment -type 
house. "The second floor suite offered a reception area of fine 
contiguous rooms, four of them (reception room, parlor, library and 
dining room) off a central hall with coat room and water closet - and 
a fifth (a smoking room) off the dining room. There were also seven 
bedrooms and two full bathrooms with kitchen and service areas. All 
this and fifteen closets on one floor!" 


The Hotel Cluny, owned by W. H. Newman and designed by J. R. Putnam 
occupied the three eastern lots previously owned by Gaffield. The 
Hotel Bristol occupied the three lots of land, originally owned by 
J. T. Eldredge but in 1879 belonged to J. C. Ropes et al. Jrs. 


Hotel Huntington, designed by George F. Meacham for owner, Mr. Levi 

B. Gay. 


Boston Illustrated, 1878 ed., p. 42c. 


Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, VII (Boston, April 1909), p. 14. 


Amerioan Architect and Building News, Vol. 4 (August 3, 1878) . 


Bacon's Dictionary. 


The triangle formed by Providence and Dartmouth Streets and Huntington 
Avenue, with an area of 746.8 square feet. This land was granted by 
the Boston Water Power Company to the Trustees of the Museum of Fine 
Arts in 1878. 


An outline for the building appears in the Atlas of the County of 
Suffolk, Massachusetts, Vol. 1, 1874. Even though it merely reflects 
the shape of the block, it seems to be influenced more by the form of 
the plan for Trinity Church than the existing building of MIT. 


Annual Report of the President and Secretary of the Institute: The 

President's Report 1871-77 and the Secretary's Report 1872-73. 


The Institute's Government Records. Minutes of Meetings of the 
Corporation Members. Meeting of December 27, 1872. 


ibid., September 3, 1873. 


ibid., February 10, 1875. 


The Park Commission Act was passed by the Legislature in 1875. 


From Minutes of Meeting of February 10, 1875. 


Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, p. 14. 


Atlas of the County of Suffolk, 1874. 

On exa mi ning the area of the land bounded by Huntington and St. James 
Avenues, Trinity Place and Dartmouth Street, a smaller "square" 
could result from the facades of MIT Chemical Laboratory and the 
proposed hotel, Trinity Church, the Museum of Fine Arts and Samuel N. 
Brown's residence, all of which enclose it. 


Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, p. 14. 




The relative value of the Copley area by 1880 was determined by the 
number of important buildings which surrounded it. The construction 
there of the Conservatory of Art and Science, one kind of improvement, 
had promoted the sale of land in its vicinity and at increased prices. 
Its members, by their involvement in acquiring grants of land from the 
State for the buildings of the Conservatory, were directly responsible 
for shaping the form of the area. A number of them too had purchased 
large parcels of land in the vicinity. Unable to take part in the 
extensive buying and selling of land, the role of the city engineers 
and surveyors had been relegated to mapmaking and consequently the 
execution of their ideas for civic improvement had been limited. Their 
plans for a park to enhance the quality of the area had come to be 

When it was finally decided that the method of connection of the 
two grids was to be their intersection, the park initially planned for 
the south of that point had been displaced by the Museum of Fine- Arts 
and it was. not planned elsewhere. With no park in the vicinity and the 
area of land fragmented into small pieces, what would seem to suggest 
itself as the place where the notion of creating an urban space could 
be explored. This particular area of land was to wait a decade before 
interest was expressed in it becoming a civic place. 

In 1875 both the Park Commissioners of the City of Boston and the 
members of the Institute showed some concern in the future of the 
Copley area as a park. The land they believed ought to be designated as 
a park was that portion west of Huntington Avenue and at the corner of 
Boylston and Dartmouth Streets. The time for enhancing the quality of 
land was nigh and by the 1880 's it had become ripe. 



Copley Square, circa 1880 (Courtesy Print Department, Boston 

Public Library) 

i^^~~^f? > **^l^£'*^*K?**$>**~: 





View of Trinity Church without the western towers and the Old 
South Church at the north-west corner of the Square 
(Courtesy Print Department, Boston Public Library) 

Prominent structures fronted the vacant site on three sides, their 
elevations formed continuous facades to that area and it approximated 
a square. Furthermore, the Trustees of the Boston Public Library had 
been granted land west of it for the new library building. In 1880 the 
grant was only for that portion situated at the south-west corner of 
Boylston and Dartmouth Streets. It was only two years later, after the 
Trustees of the Harvard Medical School had agreed to seal the alley, and 
the Legislature had empowered the City to take the land fronting St. 
James Street, that the western portion came to form a continuous boun- 
dary fronting the disjointed triangle situated west of Huntington 
Avenue . 

Acting on these incentives, the City began to acquire the pieces 
of the interior land of the square area. Acquisition was in two stages 
within a period of two years. First the more significant portion, 
located at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth Streets and west of 
Huntington Avenue and comprised of four pieces, was bought from each 

owner. On the same day, July 27, 1882, the following pieces were 

granted the city: the trapezoid by MIT at a cost of $30,000 and other 

valuable and adequate considerations; the rectangle by the Common- 
wealth of Massachusetts for $43,515.62; the triangle by the Trustees of 
the Museum of Fine Arts for $1.00; and the land of the alleyway by the 
Commonwealth of Massachusetts for $1.00. The City then possessed the 
consolidated triangular land west of Huntington Avenue and in 1883 
named this portion Copley Square. 

No attention had yet been given by the City to that other portion 
of the Copley area which was east of Huntington Avenue. In fact, land 
was conveyed by the Boston Water Power Company for private ownership to 
Mr. Whitney for $25,000 on February 1, 1883. On this land an apartment 
hotel was planned consistent with the intense development in 1883-1884 
of this building type at the southwest corner of the Copley area and 
located on Huntington Avenue. 

The future of this triangle suddenly became important to the City 
in 1885. As the proposed structure fronted Trinity Church, it would 
undoubtedly destroy the value of that building which was voted the most 
oeautiful in America in that year. Immediately the Municipal Corpora- 
tion acted, and for $30,000 purchased the portion of land east of 
Huntington Avenue, to spare the facades of Trinity Church and the Museum 



of Fine Arts. And so it was that Copley Square came to approximate a 
square space bisected on its diagonal by that Avenue. 

Even the naming of the Square and the partial consolidation of 
land there did not ensure that the physical conditions of the interior 
spaces would become more than just two triangles. What it did provide, 
however, was an open area onto which the future Boston Public Library 
could front. The name was important also in crystallizing the particu- 
larity of the area as the focus of prominent structures. Owners of 
buildings in the vicinity capitalized too on the locality to boost the 
relative value of their structures, such as apartment hotels and 
commercial enterprises. 



Atlas of County of Suffolk, 1874. 

Mr. Mathias D. Ross, a member of the Conservatory of Art and Science, was 

also a committee member of MIT and a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts. 

He owned a large parcel of land South of St. James Avenue and fronting 

Clarendon Street. 

Lyman Nichols was a member of the Society of Architects between 1874 and 

1885 and he owned land adjacent to that belonging to Ross. The Nichols 

land was located at the corner of St. James Avenue and Trinity Place. 


Book of Deeds, Grantee book. City of Boston. 


The decision of that Municipal Corporation to take the trapezoid meant 
that a site for the permanent erection of the Chemical Laboratory had 
to be sought once again by the Corporation members of MIT. With funds 
available and the pressing need generally for more building space, the 
Committee members commended the proposal to erect a structure, including 
space for the Chemistry Laboratory on the western portion of Institute 
Square. This ediface was designed by Carl Fehmer and built in 1883. 
Although contemporary with the naming of the Square, the form of this 
solution was dictated by the Back Bay grid and in no way acknowledged 
the significance of that public space diagonally opposite. 



When the Square was named, the construction process still followed 
the particular piecemeal pattern already established for the Copley 
site. It proceeded until the Square came to be completed on all its 
sides and at each of its corners. Building proceeded again in two 
phases. The first took, place during the period of increased activity 
from 1876-1887. This phase was confined to the erection mainly of 
apartment hotels that came to be located as one piece of development on 
a corner of the Square (figure 33) . 

The number of this residential building type appearing in the area 
was instrumental in establishing the nature of the avenue which these 
structures fronted. They were planned along Huntington Avenue between 
Clarendon and Exeter Streets and upon the triangular wedges of land, the 
result of the" grid intersection. Two apartment hotels were proposed 
for those triangles west of Huntington Avenue. They were the Hotel 
Huntington at the corner of Blagden Street and the Hotel for Mr. Evans 
at the south-east corner of Boylston and Dartmouth Streets. Designed 
in 1877-1878, they anticipated the future intense development of such 
hotels in the neighborhood. With the increased interest in the Evans 
land becoming a portion of an urban space, only the Huntington came to 
be realized. 

The remaining triangular lots fronting the avenue remained vacant 
for six years until Copley Square was named when a wave of apartment 
buildings were constructed. Three of these structures were planned in 
1883-1884 for the eastern lots fronting that avenue. They were the Hotel 
Oxford at the corner of Exeter Street, the Hotel Copley opposite the 
Huntington and the Hotel proposed for Mr. Whitney at the corner of St. 
James Avenue. Fortunately, when the City decided to make Copley Square 
approximate a square area, plans to build the Whitney Hotel had to be 
abandoned . 










a 111,, 

Development ac Copley Square, 




, . jg 

. --*»■ - -»r v T ^ 

rci«ietw\ H**.t**~. «w ^a« 


puis. - -;»**.* 

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Detail plan of the Back Bay showing Copley Square and its surrounds in 
1890 ( Bromley's Atlas of the City of Boston . 1890, Suffolk County, 
County Courthouse, Boston) 



Dartmouth Street, looking toward 
the north-west corner of Copley 
Square, c.a. 1885, showing the 
facades of the New Old South 
Church and the Boston Art Club 
(D.S. Tucci, Built in Boston , 
1978, p. 50) 

The S.S. Pierce Co. at the south- 
west corner of Copley Square 
(Tucci, ibid, p. 54) 

The Hotels Huntington, Copley and Oxford were considered in 1885 75 
to be the finest in Boston and thus attracted only Social Registered 
citizens. Located along Huntington Avenue, these apartments were 
prestigious. The intersection of the avenue and the other important 
streets at the Square reinforced the prominence of that urban space by 
the focussed position of the hotels at the south-west corner. 

Contemporary with their development were a number of other expen- 
sive hotels built in the vicinity so that by 1890 apartment houses had 
come to surround the Square. To the north-west were the Hotels 
Vendome, Aubry and Victoria; to the north the Hotels Cluny, Bristol 
and Brunswick; to the south-east the Ludlow; and to the south-west 
the Hotels Huntington, Copley and Oxford. The fact that these hotels 
attracted mostly Social Registered dwellers suggested the income level 
of clientelle to which a commercial enterprise to be established at 
Copley Square might cater. 

Indeed, Wallace Pierce, who in 1884 had recognized the importance 
of locating a branch of his company at the corner of Scollay Square, 
in the Court House and City Hall Districts, acknowledged the significance 
of building the S.S. Pierce Company at Copley Square. At the end of the 
building boom in 1887, Pierce, who owned the only lot available at the 
corner of Huntington Avenue and Dartmouth Street had it developed for 
commercial activity. This building extended its influence on the area 
beyond trade, for besides the store upon the ground floor, it contained 
one of the finest halls in the City and a large number of offices. 

The S.S. Pierce Company was the first commercial enterprise 

located at the Copley Square area in the 1890' s. Built at the end of 

the construction wave, it did not come to attract business activity to 

the area until the economy improved ten years later. This boom period 

promoted the property owners on Boylston Street to petition for and 

receive release from the clauses prohibiting commerce on that street. 

Although commercial invasion at the Square had to wait a decade, 

construction still continued there during the general recession. Just 

as institutions were built during the decreased activity period in the 

first half of the 1870' s, so the erection of the Boston Public Library 

on Dartmouth Street proceeded at a time when no confidence was inspired 

in building. Its execution meant that the fourth side of the Square 

would finally come to be defined. As the new facade to the Square, the 


Library would have to become part of the surrounding building mass 
which was the result of the extended period of development. When Mr. 
McKim, of the firm McKim, Mead and White was engaged in the design, 
he had the task of integrating his proposal with the almost twenty 
years of building, celebrating a multiplicity of style. 

Directly opposite this site was the French Romanesque mass of 
H.H. Richardson's Trinity Church, complete with the 211 foot Salamancan 
Tower; on the south, the red-brick and marble-striped Ruskin-Italian 
Museum; at the south-east corner, the picturesque mass of the S.S. 
Pierce and the Hotel Huntington; on the north-west, the almost contin- 
uous face of the Italian Gothic New Old South Church with its 248 foot 
campanile and of the Queen Anne Boston Art Club; on the north, the 
wall of the English Gothic Second Church and of the picturesque Chauncy 
Hall School, set within a block of brownstone houses; and on the north- 
east corner, the classical MIT building. 

In response to the three-sided Revivalist facades fronting the 
Square, one rendered as the Romanesque mass, the other two styled in 
the Gothic or the picturesque, McKim created a horizontal building, 
classical in nature, light in color and simple in outline. Completed 
twenty-five years after the first building was planned for the area, it 
enclosed the Square and not only enriched the style of the architectural 
and urban dialogue at the interface, but also reinforced the importance 
of that focus of the two grids. By facing Dartmouth Street, it 
enhanced too the significance of that street which had been relegated 
a lesser role than that initially conceived for it when the executed 
design of the Museum of Fine Arts faced St. James Avenue. Likewise, 
when the Library came to be constructed it displaced the Samuel N. Brown 
residence, the other building that turned away from Dartmouth Street. 

The role that was attributed to Dartmouthat the connection of the 
north and south grids, can be assessed by an analysis of the value of 
similar structures located on the streets with which it intersected. 
Apartment hotels, the strong building force during this period (1876- 
1890) were located on all of the three intersections, on Boylston and 
Dartmouth Streets and on Huntington Avenue. The regular hotel rates 
of these buildings was indicative of the relative worth of those streets 
within the Back Bay (appendix 4). Of the three, Huntington Avenue, 
although its apartment hotels were considered of the finest in Boston, 




Copley Square Hotel on Huntington Avenue and south of the Square 

(King, King's "How to S-ee Boston ," 1895, p. 154) 


Hotel Brunswick, on the south-east corner of Boylston and 

Clarendon Streets, and east of the Square (ibid., p. 141) 



Hotel Vendome, 1871, on the comer of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth 
btreet, and north of Copley Square (Forbes, Copley Square . 1941) 

Boston! " n i895. S p OX 1sf/ he addition of 1881 (Kin §' King's "How to ^ 



■ r£'\. 

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r 3 



msmffl 3 ™ 


had the least value. Boylston Street no longer had the same worth as 79 
ten 'years earlier, when its value was on a par with Commonwealth Avenue. 
Considered as significant as the Broad Avenue, Dartmouth had become the 
most important place. 

After twenty-five years of building at Copley Square, from the 
conception of the Museum of Fine Arts to the completion of the Boston 
Public Library, Dartmouth had come to be re-established as the important 
street in the area. Its intersections with the two other influential 
streets of the Back Bay shaped the nature of the form of the structures 
that came to be focused there. 

Where they cut each other, these streets provided many corners 
whose value determined the erection of large-scale buildings thereon, 
just as the corners of the blocks within the Back Bay came to be massed 
with such structures. With only four corners at the intersections 
within the grid, and the relatively short depth of the block between 
the main street and the alley, these large buildings formed linear 
concentrations along the north-south areas. Had the alleys not been 
sealed at the Copley site, three of these typical concentrations, one 
along each of the three streets, might have been interwoven. In fact, 
with the passageway sealed, three a-typical linear coagulations 
resulted, and by their intersection created a built zone radially 

Although Copley Square was structuied as a Back Bay block, the 
process of development of its radial concentration was piecemeal. 
Construction there continued for one and a half decades more than that 
within the Back Bay block where it occurred only in the boom. 
Building operations at the Square, however, proceeded during both the 
periods of depression and prosperity, erection of public structures 
being confined to decreased activity and of residential to increased 

At the intersection of three important streets, these structures 
could be considered as occupying only corner sites. It follows then 
that the pattern of development established for the typical block, with 
only two corners and a central section, would be different. Indeed 
this was not the case. For both areas, first large-scale buildings were 
erected, then residences and finally more large buildings. Within the 


radial configuration of development these pieces initially dotted and 
then filled in the surrounds to form an enclosing arm located at the 
north-east of the square. Additional pieces came to complete the 
circumference on the south-west approximately a decade later. The 
resultant sequence of construction being east-west was consistent with 
the grid extension for the building of a Back. Bay block. 

East-west development was at the same rate for the typical block 

as for the Copley area, both creating sixty feet of building in one 

year. Covering the same length of land as the north-south coagula- 
tions and developed at half their rate, the buildings enclosing the 

square heralded a multiplicity of styles and architectural forms 

whereas those within the typical block were similarly fashioned. 

This meant that the number of building styles at the interface 
was the product of the piecemeal development of the radial concentra- 
tion which was formed by public buildings. It is not surprising then 
that the creation of the enclosing arms of the square being in two 
distinct pieces, and in two distinct stages, proclaimed two stylistic 
solutions represented by the most significant public structure of each 
stage. One was Trinity Church, located on the eastern arm and erected 
during the first stage, before the square was named, and the other was 
the Boston Public Library, on the western arm and constructed during 
the second stage, after the square was named. Representing different 
ideologies and confronting each other at the end of the 19th century, 
they provoked much public debate as to which was more important, this 
particularly since in 1885 Trinity Church had been rated the most 
beautiful building in America and to top it all its quality was being 
enhanced by the redesign of the facade it presented toward the civic 
space I 



Bacon's Diati onary . 


Hotel Oxford at the corner of Huntington Avenue and Exeter Street 

Built 1883 

Architects: Snell and Gregerson 

Hotel Copley near the corner of Huntington Avenue and Dartmouth Stret 
Built 1884 
Architect: Fred Pope 


Hotel Aubry on Dartmouth Street 

Built 1886 

Architects: W.G. Preston and A.C. Fauld 

Hotel Kensington at the corner of Boylston and Exeter Streets 

Built 1884 

Architect: J.L. Faxon 

The Victoria (commercial hotel) at the corner of Dartmouth and 

Newbury Streets 

Built 1886 

Architect: J.L. Faxon 

Hotel Ludlow at the corner of St. James Avenue and Clarendon Street 

Built 1888 

Architect: Walker & Best. 


Bunting, Rouses of Boston's Back Bay, p. 483. 

Building rate for the Copley area: 



• /-3O0 + scorp 

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BtiaoH* kajs fotcne acajou pe enf-vey &*k?-/g# "»w icf^,pe< ?&*■ 

North-south building covering 1200 feet was in a period of ten years 
(from Marlborough to Boylston Streets). Therefore the rate of building 
was 120 feet/year. 

Total length from Beacon to Boylston Streets for north-south coagulation 
is 1600 feet. 





In the decade and a half after its creation the prominence of 
Copley Square was only partially attributed to the location there of 
the two buildings which were exciting debate throughout the country. 
Indeed, discussion of its surrounding buildings was also not limited 
to the stylistic solutions they represented. On the issue of the 
strict enforcement of building laws at the Square , a controversy con- 
cerning the height of one of its structures came to be recorded in a 
number of architectural magazines. On the lighter side of things 
too, Copley Square was the advertized address owners of commercial 
and private enterprise in the neighborhood used to entice people to 
visit their buildings. These sometimes were claimed to have their 
advantage in being situated at the very center of the most aristocratic 
part of the famous Back Bay, convenient to the railroad stations, 
electric car service, trading centers and places of amusement. 

Attracting many people within its boundaries and providing two 
important public structures, which represented different styles and 
ideologies, the Square provided^ the place for discussion about archi- 
tectural fashion in 1900. Although completed for more than two decades, 
the addition of the towers and porch to the western facade of the one 
ediface, Trinity Church, in 1894-1897 meant that a new front was directed 
to the Square. Construction on the other, the Boston Public Library, 
finished in 1896, meant too that this building presented a contemporary 
solution for its facade toward that urban space. Both structures 
orienting current and significant elevations to the Square were placed 
on a similar footing for debate. 

The decision as to which of these was more beautiful, was to be 
swayed when, with the increased consciousness of people after the 
American victories in the Spanish-American war, it was believed that a 
building ought to be the symbol of political or social value of 




Copley Square at the time of construction of the Boston Public Library, 

c.a. 1890 (Courtesy Bostonian Society) 


jjQjiS ~?^ 


I 1 I 


,- ww 4 

"£"■}-* "»' ' ' 


IrtirHnu 1 


The Boston Public Library, completed in 1896 and forming the 

west facade to the Square (Courtesy Print Department, Boston 

Public Library) 


View of Trinity Church showing the addition of the western 

towers and porch in 1898 (ibid.) 


• p«W 4»{ 


Westminster Chambers at the South-east corner of Copley Square, c 
1900 (Rotch Library, Visual Collections, MIT) 

86 Imperial America. Celebrating symmetry and regularity as the solution 
to the facade on Dartmouth Street, the Library envisioned a future role 
for itself as such a symbol for the nation. In fact it came to be rated 
more significant than Trinity Church, and was voted the second most 
beautiful building in America, while Trinity Church had slipped to 
third place. The measure of these opinions could to some degree be 
related to the comparative value of the streets fronting the two buil- 
dings. Boylston Street and Huntington Avenue both surrounded Trinity 
Church and were of lesser worth than Dartmouth Street onto which the 
Boston Public Library faced. This street, along which was located the 
second most beautiful building in America, proclaimed for itself a 
position in the Back Bay and in the country. 

Considered a national space, the strict enforcement of building 
codes was demanded and deemed necessary for good design, so that when 
a structure facing the Square exceeded the height restrictions, this 
inevitably led to objections. In many volumes of the "American 
Architect and Building News" both the question of its height and the 
general question of laws pertaining to height restriction for Copley 

Square became main issues for discussion. 


In 1879 when Westminster Chambers was constructed at the south- 
east corner of the Square and between the Museum of Fine Arts and 
Trinity Church, opposition to its height, which exceeded the restricted 
limit of 90 feet by 6 feet, came from the Trustees of the Museum. 
The additional height of the structure casting shadows onto the glass 
skylights of that building, rendered it difficult to view art works 
located beneath the lights. The hostility of this institution did not 
last long for as soon as land was purchased for its new site in 
December 1899 the Trustees of the Museum withdrew from the case. This 
matter, however, continued to be debated by both the City of Boston 
and other individuals who were concerned about the quality of the 
buildings fronting the Square. 

The editors of the American Architect and Building News introduced 

related issues concerning the height of Westminster Chambers at 

Copley Square. In June 1901 the point was raised as to the law under 

the original conditions being of questionable equitableness . This was 

explained in an article in the "Brickbuilder" which appeared two years 

later and it reads: 

"...In some respects the Boston building law is one of the best in the 
country, but in its application, unfortunately, discriminations have 
been made regarding the height of buildings in certain portions of the 
City, so that about Copley Square, for example, the buildings on the 
site of Westminster Chambers cannot be carried as high by ten feet as 
buildings directly across the Square." 

The other subjects raised concerned the responsibility of the Municipal 
Corporation, whose employees were involved in creating those laws, 
for allowing the completion of Westminster Chambers, and also the 
course of action to be followed by that Corporation. 

What was proposed for the building was that either the entire 
upper storey be moved or the height reduced so that it would have 
little commercial value. The latter plan was adopted entailing the 
removal of 4 feet of cornice and 2 feet of roof so that a roof garden 
came to be provided for the building. The resultant damages were very 
high and upon the decision of the Supreme Court, fell upon. the City 
of Boston. 

By the turn of the century, Copley Square, as an institutional, 
religious, educational, high density residential and commercial center, 
attracted many people and it is not surprising that it also became a 
node of public transportation in Boston. At the Square itself, street 
cars ran along Huntington Avenue and diagonally bisected its area. 
There too, an elaborate station of the Boylston Street Subway, opening 
on Boylston Street, was built in the space directly adjoining the 
Boston Public Library and the New Old South Church. 

Trinity Place, one block to the south of the Square, led directly 
to the New York Central Trinity Place Station, where all outgoing 
trains stopped. At Huntington Avenue and Irvington Street, one block 
south west of the Square, was the Huntington Avenue Station of the same 
line, where all inward-bound trains stopped. Dartmouth Street was the 
route to the Back Bay Station of the New York, New Haven and Hartford 
Railroad, one block south of the Square, the stopping place for all 
trains in both directions. 

With deep concern for the good design of surrounding buildings, 
and the importance they commanded, compounded by the relatively high 
value of land at Copley Square, the initial idea for civic improvement, 
as proposed by the men of the "Conservatory of Art and Science" had 


come to be realized. Forming a significant enclosure to the urban 
space the buildings attracted people there and this resulted in the 
increased flow of vehicular traffic along Huntington Avenue further 
adding to the disjointed nature of the two triangular "bits of green". 
Their condition was even worse than at Park Square where at least an 
effort had been made to improve the green by the placement of a statue 
within. So with two triangular pieces of land, covered with mangy 
lawn, what had happened to the ideals of the mapmakers for enhancing 
the quality of the area? Was the step of naming that space sufficient 
to satisfy their original goals for civic improvement? 



Theodore Stebbins, "Richardson and Trinity Church: The Education of a 
Building," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians , Vol. 
XXVII, Numher 4, (December 1968), p. 296. 

Stebbins is not specific about the dates when the cappings to the 
original towers were removed. He says it was between 1878-1886. 
This includes the period when the Boston Public Library had been 
granted land from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1880-1883; 
when the City acquired land in front of the Church, 1883-1885; and 
when in 1883-1885 Richardson worked on a project for "finishing" Trinity 
Church. In these drawings he had included for the first time a full 
western porch and had heightened the western towers which were to be 
connected by a colonnade. It is a matter of conjecture then that the 
removal of these structures might have been closer to the naming of the 
Square and thus to 1884 rather than to 1878. 


Westminster Chambers was erected on previously built land. Its struc- 
tures required the demolition of existing buildings and the consolida- 
tion of land parcels extending from Trinity Place to the Hotel Ludlow 
on St. James Avenue. This building, designed by H.A. Creiger and 
constructed in 1899, abutted the property of MIT. This Institution 
began to acquire land at Trinity Place from 1888 until all the land 
south of the alleyway and bounded by Stanhope and Clarendon Streets and 
Trinity Place came into its possession. 

Henry B. Williams, who owned the land on which Westminster Chambers 
was built, had established himself as an owner of various apartment 
and commercial hotels in the Copley Square vicinity. In Bromley's 
Insurance Atlas 1895, the Hotels Brunswick and Kensington were in his 
possession as were two parcels of land at the corner of Clarendon 
Street and St. James Avenue, south of the Hotel Brunswick. In 1899, 
Williams owned land on the Westminster site in piecemeal fashion — the 
corner site and a lot three parcels west of the corner and east of the 
Ludlow. This land between his corner site and the Ludlow was consoli- 
dated and became the location for Westminster Chambers. Clearly 

Williams recognized the prime position of this site for the develop- °9 
ment of the well established apartment-type house in the area. 


American Architect and Building News, (June 5, 1901), p. 47. 


Brickbuilder, Vol. 12 (May, 1903), p. 106. 


Edwin M. Bacon, Boston: A Guide Book, (The Athenaeum Press, 1903), p. 85. 




The acquisition by the City of the wedges of land within the 
Copley Area in 1883-1885, ensured for it only a future of no building. 
All the efforts in naming the Square seemed naught to those people 
concerned for the quality of the landscape, when it remained merely as 
two grass covered triangles, surrounded by car tracks on busy streets. 
The space had to wait a decade until its fourth facade was well under 
way, before interest in the area prompted its design as a civic square. 

In 1892 William Rotch Ware urged the Boston Society of Architects 
to consider the proper treatment of the two pieces of land. For the 
next two years this was to be the subject for discussion at the Society's 
meetings, and particularly since the Metropolitan Park Commission 
wished to create public squares for Boston. Furthermore, with the 
general state of economy and the resultant ebb in building, time could 
be devoted to the formulation of visionary schemes for the area. The 
result was that various solutions of sunken gardens, grass and trees, 
ornamental planting, statuary and fountains were proposed in 1895 by- 
eminent architects. The fact that none were realized did not mean 
they were the last of the designs for the area. Indeed, they were 
only the beginning! 

With the completion of the Boston Public Library in the following 
year, the general interest in the design of civic spaces and the 
economic recession, it was no coincidence that in 1897 an article 
appeared in which discussion was devoted to the character and form of 
Copley Square, in order to outline ideas for its future. The article 
reads : 

"Copley Square, in Boston, is just now greatly attracting the attention 
of those interested in municipal improvement. Although, like nearly 
all Boston "squares", it is at present really a compound polygon, it 
is distinguished by being traversed by three important streets, through 

each of which many thousands of people are transported every day by 
several lines of electric-cars; and it is impossible to doubt that, 
before many years, it will become a very important business center - 

probably the most important in the city, next to the area about the 

intersection of State and Congress Streets." 

What is meant by "Square". 

At this time there seemed to be two types of squares in the City. 

In the first instance there was the square created by the inter- 
secting streets of downtown Boston. These were irregular squares and 
frequently had a central wedge-shaped piece of land on which buildings 
were erected. These 'pieces' might have been covered with grass or 
decorated with statuary and fountains and surrounding them were 
religious, commercial and residential buildings. Scollay Square was 
an example of this "square" (figure 45). It was, in fact, the most 
irregular of triangles, for two of the sides were in Court Street 
and the third in Tremont Row. It was the central plaza from which 
many carriage-routes diverged. "An English visitor said that the 
view south from Scollay Square was one of the most picturesque street 
scenes in the world. In the driveways, a vast tangle of cars and 
wagons; on the sidewalks, animated currents of many phases of human 
life; and on the sides, the old pitch-roofed brick houses, the long 
triple-balconied front of the Boston Museum, the green trees of the 
burial-ground, the dark low tower of King's Chapel, and the lofty white 

marble pile of the Parker House. The view from the square down Court 

Street is not less impressive, with the quaint old State House." 

The first owner of Scollay Square was Edward Bendall, whom the 

Puritans drove away and then part of the land came to David Yale, 

founder of Yale College. In 1795 most of the square was covered by a 

wedge-shaped "heap of ramshackle buildings," the chief of which 

belonged to Wm. Scollay, of a Scottish family from the Orkney Islands. 

Scollay' s building was torn down in 1871, leaving the present great 

triangular open space, which was bordered by busy retail stores, hotels, 

restaurants and museums. The S.S. Pierce Company had a branch at a 

corner of the square in 188A. 




Scollay Square in 1895 (King, King's " How to 

see Boston, 1895, p. 86) 


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f -. - - 

Q C 




-LAWKtNCt l~ K 

g - -WARREN AVE.- 5 s -.' L/a 1 


EHY SX^<* v V 


Park Square (ibid., p. 186) 



Another example of the irregular "square" type was Park Square, 
the square whose focus, the Boston and Providence Railroad Station, 
was developed contemporary with the first stage of institutional 
building at the Copley site. When, at the end of the nineteenth 
century, the Boston and Providence Railroad line was redirected to 
South Station and its route was changed at the Back Bay Station, the 
function of Park Square as a node of communication came to be 
absorbed by Copley Square and Dartmouth Street. The result was that 
the Boston and Providence depot was no longer needed as the focus at 
Park Square. Consequently, this triangle only transcended its 
characteristic nature as a bit of green, located at an intersection of 
streets, for just over two decades. 

The second square type in Boston was the regular, right-angled 
square in the center of which was a planted piece of ground surrounded 
by residential buildings. Franklin and Blackstone Squares were 
examples of this kind. Franklin Square was "at the South End, on the 
east side of Washington Street, opposite Blackstone Square, a pleasant 
small park containing 195,205 square feet each with grown trees 
affording a refreshing shade in summer, a fountain in the center of the 
grounds, and broad winding paths." This square, with Blackstone 
Square, were laid out in 1849. The location of both these squares dates 
back to the original plan for the Necklands by the Boston Selectmen in 
1801. As Chairman of the Selectmen, Charles Bulfinch was thought to 
have been the major contributor to the plan which included straight, 
right-angled streets and large blocks with an oval planted park as the 
focal point of the new district. This plan represented an early attempt 
to break from the organic and curvilinear street pattern characteristic 
of old Boston. 

Certain characteristics of the second square type bore some 
relation to the New England Commons which were established to provide 
plots for the town ministers. This land was transformed into the 
town commons around which varying religious and civic buildings were 
structured giving each open space a unique character. These plots 
could either be regular or irregular and many of the New England greens 
and squares were open-ended as at Cohasset and Ipswich. These squares 
were seldom geometrically square, although they frequently achieved a 
sense of rectangular space by the location of buildings and trees there. 

The great squares at New Haven and Cleveland were centrally located 
and historically always important both as town centers and as sites 
for important structures. 

Copley Square, as the location of significant structures, began 
to suggest itself in the nature of the traditions of the New England 
Commons; of a "regular square" bounded by Dartmouth and Boylston 
Streets, St. James Avenue and Trinity Place; and of an intersection 
square created by three important intersecting streets, Huntington 
Avenue, Dartmouth and Boylston Streets, and by two superimposed grids. 

The article in American Architect and Building News of 1897 

"...The present condition of the square, as an object of artistic 
interest, is simply lamentable. Two bare grass-plots, left, as it 
were, by an oversight, between the intersecting streets, constitute 
the ornamental portion of the area, and the appearance of the five 
buildings which surround it, including the Museum of Fine Arts, the 
Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, and the New Old South Church, 
is sadly marred by the lines of Huntington Avenue, which cuts 
diagonally across the foreground to all of them." 

Recognition of the negative conditions and of the unexploited 
potential of the square prompted the discussion of two plans suggested 
for remedying the area. Either of these plans could be carried out 
independently of the other, since they were in no sense antagonistic 
of one another, the later scheme merely supplementing and adding new 
force to the elements of the original one. The earlier of these 
proposed the restoration of the "square" to a rectangular form by 
suppressing that part of Huntington Avenue which crossed the Square 
diagonally, and directing the Huntington Avenue traffic into the 
streets - widened for the purpose - on which the important buildings in 
the square then fronted. This plan would give a symmetrical space 
between the Public Library and Trinity Church, which could be treated 
in various ways, but which the Boston Society of Architects hoped 
might in the future be laid out as a sunken garden, after the Italian 
stvle. The later plan proposed to add value to Coplev Square by 
introducing another broad avenue having its entrance into Copley Square 
at the south-east corner in such a way as to balance precisely Hunting- 



, 47. 

- Charles McKim's Scheme 
for Copley Square c.a. 
1890 (Courtesy Print Dept, 
Boston Public Library) 

McKim's vision for the 
Square c.a. 1890 
(Whitehill, "Back Bay, 
Charles and Public 
"!j!±^J% Buildings," Proceedings 
gflK of the Bostonian Society , 


t \. : 

Ralph Adams Cram described his design for Copley Square c.a. 1895. 
a central circle and a sort of Trojan's column in the center." 
(Cram, My Life in Architecture , Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1936) 
Photo: Courtesy Print Department, Boston Public Library. 




Frank Bourne's proposal for Copley Square, 1912 

(Courtesy Print Department, Boston Public 


ton Avenue on the other side, thus restoring symmetry to the square by 
doubling the feature which then rendered it unsymmetrical. A street 
in that direction would furnish a short and very desirable connection 
between the upper part of Washington Street and the street-railway 
systems diverging from Copley Square, and would make it possible to 
connect the latter, through Pleasant Street and Broadway, directly with 
the South Boston systems. 

These designs expressed great interest both in the purpose and the 
form of the Square. As a piece of civic landscape their space was not 
intersected by vehicular traffic and as classical solutions their 
nature was determined by the principles of geometry and symmetry. 
The idea proposed by the Boston Society of Architects, that the 
Italian Style be emulated, only partially contributed to the stylistic 
solutions envisioned by Mr. McKim in the early 1890's, by Cram in 
the latter half of the decade and by Bourne in 1912. Indeed, it was 
the classical rendering of the fourth facade to the Square, and also 
the increasing favor of this style in America that shaped the fantasy 
for Copley Square for the next twelve years. 


1. • 

The Park. Act, partly initiated by Charles William Eliot and forming a 
permanent Metropolitan Park Commission, was passed on June 3, 1893. 
Eliot in his work for the Commission expressed interest in creating for 
Boston a system of parks composed of five area types, one of which was 
the public square. 


American Architect and Building News, Vol. LVII (September 18, 1897), 
p. 93. 


Moses King, ed., King's "Bow to See Boston," A Practical Guide and an 

Artistic Souvenir, (Boston: Moses King, 1895), p. 85. 


Bacon 's Dictionary . 


American Architect and Building News, (September 18, 1897), p. 94. 







View of Copley Square, showing the Museum of Fine Arts in the upper 
section of the photo and the Copley Plaza Hotel built on its site in 
1912 in the lower section of the photo (Courtesy Print Department. 
Boston Public Library) 




The two civic improvements that were conceived in the 1860 's to 
enhance the quality and increase the market value of the most unfavorable 
site within the Back Bay, the Copley Square area, undoubtedly influenced 
the shape it had taken by 1912. The initial goal of the "Committee of 
Associated Institutions" was to establish a Conservatory of Art and 
Science to increase the relative worth of the site, and in so doing to 
promote educational and civic improvement for the benefit of the Common- 
wealth. Although it was an ideology, and not a physical p.lan, the 
involvement of the members, both professional and business men, in the 
acquisition of grants of land and in the buying and selling of land, had 
made them more directly responsible for the form of the area than the 
second group, the City employees. The engineers and surveyors of that 
Municipal Corporation were unable to take part in the erection of public 
structures and were merely attributed the task of laying out the plan of 
the area as an urban square at the intersection of the northern and 
southern grids. 

Not all the buildings proposed to constitute the four departments 
of the Conservatory of Art and Science were built at the Copley Square 
area. Two of its structures, Horticultural Hall and the Mechanics 
Building, were erected along Huntington Avenue, almost a mile away from 
the Square. Failure of one of the goals of the Conservatory to establish 
all the buildings of the State Institution in one location was offset 
by its success as a financial scheme to raise the market value of the 
land at the Copley site. The erection in the 1860's and 1870 's of three 
departments of the Conservatory, MIT, the Museum of Natural History and 
the Museum of Fine Arts, in close proximity to each other, enriched the 
worth of the Square and attracted affiliated associations. As predicted 
in the Financial Estimate of 1861, the resultant value of land situated 
south of Commonwealth Avenue and west of the Public Garden, came to 

102 approximate the value of that Avenue and the Park. This increase in the 
value of land acted as the profit motive to build high density apartment 
hotels, catering to people of upper income, those of moderate means 
inhabiting the South End grid. By attracting only Social Registered 
citizens to live at the Square, the democratic plan of the Conservatory 
with its philanthropic ideals, intended for the benefit of all, became 
in its application a money-making mechanism. 

Another factor contributing to the success of the "Associated 
Institutions" in shaping Copley Square , was that the ideology of the 
Conservatory was proposed by many men and was not the aggrandized vision 
of one man at one moment. Instead, as realized, it became the rich 
accretion of buildings developed over an extended period of time. 
Furthermore, it was these buildings which were the identifying features 
of Copley Square, not the civic space itself. 

.Appendix 1 

"Financial Estimate of 1861", pp. 10-14 

By this time many filled lots had "been purchased between Arlington and 
Clarendon Streets and their sale value formed the basis for the 
schedule below of prices forecasted in the Estimates of 1861. 

The actual average prices for which land was sold per square foot: 

For lots fronting Commonwealth Avenue, the Public 

Garden and the Charles River (p. 10) $2.87 

For land north of the Broad Avenue - 

on Marlborough Street (p. 12) $1.43 

on Beacon Street (p. 10) $2.87 

Average price 

For land south of the Broad Avenue (p. 13) 

The budgeted prices for which land at the 
Copley site would sell per square foot: 

on Boylston Street, the State land (p. 11) $1.16 2/3 

on St. James Street, the Boston 

Water Power Company lands (p. 11) $0.75 

$1.91 2/3 

Average price $0.95 5/6 ... $0.96 

Therefore the ratio of the value of the Copley site to the 

Avenue site is 33 1/3/100 

. and to the south of the avenue is 85/100 

The ratio of the Boston Water Power Co. lands to the 

state lands is 64/100 


$2.15 . . . 

. . . $2.15 

. . . $1,131$ 

This figure does not appear in the Estimate of 1861. 
It has been calculated for comparative purposes. 


Appendix 2 

Summary of the three cases presented in the Estimate 

Case 1. A minimum average price per square foot for lots was assumed 
The cost of lots fronting Commonwealth Avenue, 

Public Garden or Charles River was $2.33 

The cost of lots fronting ordinary streets was . . . $1.30 

Assuming the plan for the Reservation was not 
proceeded with and all land set aside for this 
purpose including the adjacent side lots were 
sold at $1.30 per foot. 

Calculated value realized: 505,256 ft at $1.30 
Assuming the plan for the Reservation was 
proceeded with and land retained for this 
purpose, and the adjacent side-lots sold 
for the same minimum average price as the 
lots fronting Commonwealth Avenue. 
Calculated Value realized: 259,752 ft at $2.33 
Assuming the lots at the West End of the 
Reservation were sold at $2.30 per ft 
Calculated Value realized: 22,439 ft at $2.30 , 


Total Realized: 
i.e. showing no gain or loss to the State. 

. $605,222.16 

, $51,610.64 

Case 2. An average price per square foot for lots 
was assumed. 
The cost of lots fronting Commonwealth Avenue, 

Public Garden or Charles River was $2.87 

The cost of lots fronting ordinary streets was . . . $1.33 2/9 

Assuming the proposed Reservation built on 

land on ordinary streets. 

Calculated Value of property: 245,504 ft at $1.33 2/9 .... 

Calculated Value of the lots fronting but 
not including the end lots: 259,752 ft at $1.33 2/9 


Total value of the two squares . . . 

Assuming the lots fronting the Reservation 
were sold at the average price of lots on 
Commonwealth Avenue, Public Garden (as 
obtained from actual sales in 1860) 

Value realized 

259,752 ft at $2.87 



i.e. Net gain of $72,374.98 (without including the 
end lots on the west) 

9ase 3. Assuming the maximum average for the sale of land adjacent 
to the proposed territory to be $3.01 3/4, the profit 
derived would be nearly $80,000. This profit shown in 
cases 2 and 3 does not include the value of the sale of 
lots to the west of the Reservation, whose sale would 
still increase this excess. 


Appendix 3 

The average price obtained from the actual sale of lands was recorded 
by Bainbridge Bunting, Houses of Boston's Back Bay, p. 368. 
The land per square foot was sold in 1860 for $1.70 

in 1865 for $2.39 

in 1870 for $2.80 

in 1879 for $3.14 

in 1886 for $4.35 

Therefore the average increase in price from 1860-1870 was 60%. 

In 1860 land fronting the following In 1870, allowing for 60% in- 

streets sold per square foot for: crease in price, by deduction 

these lots would sell per square 

foot for: 

Boylston Street . . .$1,375 $2.20 

Commonwealth Avenue $2.87 $4.59 

St. James Street . .$0.75 $1.20 

In 1872 the triangle of Trinity Church 

measured 14,700 square feet and sold 

for $72,030.50. The price per square 

foot was $4.90 

This price of $4.90 closely approximated 

the value of lots fronting Commonwealth Avenue . . $4.59 

Yet allowing for 60% increase, based on 1860 

prices, this land fronting Boylston Street, 

should have sold for $2.20 

In 1872 the rectangle of Trinity Church 

measured 24,800 square feet and sold 

for $105,000. The price per square 

foot was $4.23 

This price of $4.23 closely approximated 

the value of lots fronting Commonwealth Avenue . . $4.59 

Yet allowing for 60% increase, this land which 

fronted St. James Street would have sold for . . . $1.20 

Appendix 4 

The following rates of apartment hotels are from two guidebooks written 
in the first decade of 1900: 

Edwin M. Bacon, Boston^ A Guide Book (The Athenaeum Press, 1903), p. 
viii, and Dr. Walter L. Burrage, ed . , A Guide Book of Boston for 
Physicians, prepared for the fifty-seventh annual session of the 
American Medical Association (Boston: Marymount Press, 1906), pp. 161- 

European Plan Rates American Plan 

Along Huntington Avenue 

The Copley Square Hotel $1.00 and upward 

Hotel Nottingham or the former Hotel 
Huntington (ownership had not changed 
hands, and the building was not 

altered in any way) .... $1.00 and upward 

Hotel Oxford .... $1.00 and upward $2.50 and 


The European plan rate was 60 percent less than the American plan rate 
on this avenue . 


Along Boylston Street 

European Plan Rates American Plan 


Hotel Brunswick ..... $1.50 and upward $4.00 and 


Hotel Lenox .... $1.50 and upward 

The European plan rate was 62*s percent less than the American plan rate 
on this street. 

European Plan Rates American Plan 

Along Dartmouth Street 

The Victoria .... $2.00 and upward 

Assuming the increase of 60 percent for the American plan rate 
for this hotel would be . . . $5.00 and 


Along Commonwealth Avenue, rates on the American plan were $5.00 and 


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